Taking a petit pee-pee in Harvard Yard

August 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Gilles and Dave golfed in Stowe, returning to Winchester about three hours after their estimated return time. While the kids often asked where their dads were, Flo and I and the four children had a terrific, much-needed morning (and early afternoon) together. We did NOTHING. The kids badly needed such a block of time; I even snapped a picture while they — unsuspecting of the camera trained at their faces — were lined up on a couch, each playing a DS, or reading, or playing some iPhone game. Flo and I did laundry, dishes, made beds. And then I explained to Ines and Huge — in my very best French — how to play “Sorry!” They caught on in two seconds (and only corrected my grammar once) and played for a long time with Hayley; Hugo and Alyssa also engaged in a Harry Potter Legos set. I got to hear even more of the girls’ rudimentary French, as they peppered their play with simple but clear and important phrases like, “a’ toi” (your turn), “a’ moi” (my turn), “pret?” (ready?), and “NON!” (don’t fucking do that!).

After the stinky men got back and cleaned themselves up, we drove into Cambridge for what we’d been billing as the Jenn-and-Dave Tour. We had high hopes: We were going to eat at Anna’s Taqueria and then show the crowd our 22 Crescent St. apartment, Harvard Yard and Harvard Square, and — via the T’s Red Line — M.I.T. at Kendall Square. Once again, we underestimated the amount of whining, bladder-emptying, and (did I mention?) whining that would ensue. By 7:30 p.m., we’d made it as far as Harvard Square. (M.I.T. will be Friday’s fare.)

After dining at our old, favorite burrito place (which doesn’t have gluten-free tortillas but does have awesome vegetarian rice and black beans), we walked to 22 Crescent St., the apartment owned by our landlord, John, who’d perished in 9/11. Alyssa bravely knocked on the door, hoping the apartment’s current inhabitants would let us in, as the girls wanted to see the last home we had before they came into our lives. But no one was home. Big disappointment, especially for Alyssa; she believes that, since I was pregnant with her during our final months in Cambridge, “Our Fair City” is somehow hers, too.

We made it about 100 yards before the kids spotted a playground, and off they ran. Eventually, we made it to Harvard Yard — filled with incoming freshmen — looking giddy and smart — and their camera-toting parents when Ines declared she had to pee RIGHT NOW. We tried the famed Harvard Library. Closed. Then some other famed building. Closed. Then, in a stroke of luck, some kindly frehmen let us into their likely famous dorm and into its sub-sub basement where, gloriously, a bathroom was found.

Relieved (literally), off we trotted to Ben & Jerry’s in Harvard Square. After refueling on Vermont ice cream (the Millescamps were very impressed), Alyssa had an I-need-to-read attack. The Millescamps set off to Winchester; the four Knudsens lagged behind and ducked into the Coop, where Alyssa found more Manga madness and installed herself on a low bench to read, in bliss, for a little while. This time, I’d brought my book with me. We all read in the Coop’s cool (as in quite cold) basement-level YA room for a good while.

About that meltdown… Alyssa melts down somewhat regularly and has become quite good at separating herself from the group and reading herself into a state of calm. Hayley, on the other hand, who is less practiced in completely losing control, doesn’t know what to do with herself when her emotions rage out of control. At bedtime, Alyssa made the unintelligent move of asking Hayley if she could sleep for one night on the top bunk that Hayley’d claimed as hers since our first moment in Winchester. Alyssa well knows what beds and bed-time clothing mean to Hayley; Hayley wears her PJs all the time and takes incredible pride in the places she sleeps, be they in hotels, others’ homes, or in her own, for that matter. In other words, we all know by now that if Hayley claims a bed (or even a side of the bed, in the case of hotel rooms with queen beds for the girls to share in non-bliss), it’s HERS.

What ensued after Alyssa asked for the top bunk and proceeded to offer the Top 10 Reasons Why She Should Have It And Hayley Should Give It Up was the metamorphosis of an oft-flexible Hayley into the rare wild-animal-Hayley-beast. She proceeded to scream and thrash about for at least an hour (with me holding her tightly and Dave trying to reason with her while Alyssa walked into and out of the room, looking both complicit and sly all at once) before finally tiring herself out and falling asleep on Dave and my bed. (Dave slept in the kids’ room last night; I got the spot next to a very crashed-out Hayley.)

After Hayley’s rabid-animal antics, she calmed enough to scream out her anger. Indeed, it wasn’t really all about the bed. She’s just ready to go home, be in HER bed, play with Jacky and the kitties, and start school. We all get it. Our vacation is coming to a close at a precarious and exciting time of year. The kids are anticipating school and ready to head there, and their folks are ready to return to work. Our house still will be under contruction when we return home, and that’s on their minds, too. (We’ve seen some pictures, and it sure looks like a demo zone!)

We’ve had an amazing time with the Millescamps; who knew that a random house exchange in 2009 would birth a very special friendship between an American and a French family that continues now, in 2012, and we’re making plans for 2014. But, yes, it’s nearing time to return home, to normalcy and fewer Death Marches.

Dave and I recently turned to one another and asked when we might steal away, just the two of us, for a couple days.

Next: Sturbridge, Mass., A real Colonial town.

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Pete, pete (pronounced ‘pet’)

August 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm (Uncategorized)

That’s French for ‘fart.’ Wanna know where Beantown got its name?

Since the Puritans did no work on their Sabbath (Sundays), including cooking, on Saturdays (other folks’ Sabbath) they always prepared a large quantity of food that stayed fresh, was hearty and didn’t need to be reheated on Sabbath day. That meal was beans. So, their noon-time meals on Sundays — during breaks from their endless church services — were large plates of beans. “Imagine,” said our DuckTour driver, “sitting in church all afternoon with a bunch of people whose only meal since noon was a pile of beans. And that’s how Boston got its nickname, Beantown.”

The things we’re learning on this vacation!

A DuckTour is something offered coast-to-coast, including here in Bean — er — Boston, but when Dave and I lived here from ’99 – ’01, we never took one, having understood it’s mainly something for the kids. Yesterday, though, with four kids in tow, we went on such a tour. A DuckTour occurs in a repurposed WWII vehicle the goes both on land and in the water; here, in trundles through key sites in Boston and Charlestown’s center, as well as in the Charles River. ‘Duck’ is actually an acronym employing war-time abbreviations; the ‘D,’ for example, means the vehicles were construced in 1942; those with an ‘E’ were constructed in 1943; and, according to our driver, no such vehicles were constructed in 1944, otherwise, the tours would be called the FuckTours and no longer be family friendly. Fortunately for his job and our kids’ ears, he only alluded to that bad, bad word without saying it outloud.

His fart comment drew guffaws from the kids; his f-u-c-k comment got the same reaction from the adults. I’m so glad we took that tour!

I should back up by saying that our driver donned an Amelia Earhart-ish aviator’s cap and goggles. And he introduced himself as Dr. Quackenstein. Alyssa, who was sitting next to me with her eyes practically rolled all the way up into her head, said, “Kill me now, please.” However, she eventually warmed up to Dr. Quackenstein (whom I’m sure was not Jewish) and then definitively decided he was OK after that fart crack. Sense a theme here?

It was good an hot yesterday, so the kids tired easily. After the DuckTour, we took the T (the Green Line) to Boston Common and then led the Frenchies down Newbery Street, that gorgeous spot near Copley Square, the famed Cheers Bar, the Boston Public Library, and simply gorgeous, historic brownstones worth who-knows-how-many-millions a pop. We all had a serious case of dragonass and finally alighted upon a crummy pizzeria that made the kids endlessly happy (though I grumbled to myself about the single plate of veggis I could consume there. But no one knew I was pissed! Good job Jenn!). After that — and it was nearly 5 p.m. by then — the Millescamps were FINIT, but Alyssa hadn’t yet had her book fix. So, while the Millescamps repaired to “our” Winchester house, the four Knudsens went to the even-bigger-than-I-ever-realized Boston Public Library, where Alyssa literally led us around, from room to room, like dogs on a leash. She was in search of Manga books, the Japanese graphic novels whose characters are drawn with obscenely large eyes, skinny waists, and very spiky hairdos. At last, after taking endless staircases up, down, and through many corridors, we came to the “YA” section of the behemoth building. There, Alyssa located — as if she were the negative force to the book shelves’ positive — an entire wall dedicated to Manga madness. She actually spread her arms wide and hugged as many books’ spines as she could and then commenced pulling volume after volume off the shelves and devouring them with her eyes. Hayley commenced playing on some very! fun! rock-y! chairs!; I found my current book (“A Secret River” by Kate Grenville) to read where I’d left off; and Dave fiddled with his iPhone. It was bliss for nearly an hour, until we really needed to leave.

We returned to a large parking lot in Alewife (on the Red Line of the T) to collect our car and then proceeded to wait at least a half hour in parking-lot traffic (are you kidding me?!) before we could even exit that blasted structure. Then, we waited in more traffic along Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass. Ave.”) before, at last, arriving at my cousin Deena Kimmel’s apartment. She, a French speaker, having spent a semester in Nantes, France, while at Connecticut College — that smart, smart girl! — bravely agreed to babysit four children so the four adults could go out one night on our own. (While we’d left the “petits” alone in our hotel room in D.C., that would not go over too well out in Winchester. Not that the thought didn’t cross our minds.) I loved seeing my cousin, whom I don’t get to see nearly often enough, as she and her family live out here. But tomorrow night, we all go out to Newton (closer to Boston than Winchester) to spend an evening with my aunt and uncle, Eli and Ken, their other daughter, Shelby, and her lovely fiance, Paul.

Arriving back in Winchester with Deena in tow, we gave her some instructions and, close to 9 p.m., set off for Sam’s, which Eli had recommended, as it’s located on one of Boston’s ports, adjacent to the ICA, Institute for Contemporary Art. We four had a simply wonderful alfresco dinner (I had a coriander-encrusted white fish from Maine called cobia, on a bed of spicy and melt-in-your-mouth chickpeas), while a Bay breeze wound through the terrace and the boats’ lights dotted our view of the already black horizon. It had been a lengthy, mad dash to actually get to the restaurant, but it was worth it, though it all ended too quickly. Upon arriving home, a sweating Deena was apologetic about not having gotten the children to bed. Tant pis! They were in one piece, happy, and had a great time with Deena who did a masterful job of sitting four children who speak two different languages. Bravo!

It was bizarre for me to have spent a little bit of time that evening with Deena. While we’re first cousins, she’s nearly 17 years my junior; we’re a half-generation apart, though her mom and my dad are siblings. (I had a similar feeling the evening we had dinner with Justin Director in Manhattan; he’s 11 years my junior, still separating us by half a generation. But, as a super-sharp Harvard Law School grad, his brain keeps us separated by more than that.) Deena impressed me: A confident young woman where once there’d been an unsure teenager, she’s a new college grad, about to move into a new apartment with new roommates, and is figuring out what she loves — and doesn’t — about her nascent marketing career.

To read about a meltdown of epic proportions, click to the next blog entry.

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Off to Boston

August 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm (Uncategorized)

We’re on an Amtrak train, Boston-bound. Amtrak boasts it’s got Internet. Not really. I’m writing this into a Word document to post later, when I actually have Internet access.

It is simply pouring; I cannot believe our timing in having spent four dry, sunny days in Philly before the mugginess overtook the city and resulted in a fierce rain storm. Now, inside the Amtrak cars, it’s dry. Save for the condensation running down the window and the carpeted wall, too. Yes, on the inside of the train. Right past the 120-volt electrical strip. I asked the Amtrak employee if we still could use the electrical strip, might the water penetrate it? He looked very dubious and answered equally dubiously: “Sure, you can use it.” Well, I took his word for it but did cringe the instant I plugged in this computer, not entirely certain the Amtrak dude also is an electrical engineer.

Yesterday, we force-marched the girls through Philadelphia’s Old City, as we’d only previously seen it via stinking horse. We knew Hayley and Alyssa would bitch and moan but we also knew they’d get to spend the rest of our final day in the City of Brotherly Love (and many hobos, cigarette butts, trash, and wandering people who talk to themselves) in our suite, as well as in the Millescamps’ hotel’s pool. (We got so fortunate that the Millescamps’ were unable to book rooms in our hotel, as they stayed instead in the hotel next to ours and it had a pool. The four kids cooled off – literally and figuratively – in the pool every afternoon.)

Turns out we loved Philly’s Old City. It seems it doesn’t get the foot traffic it deserves; each National Park Ranger we came across was incredibly eager to share the wealth of his or her knowledge about Declaration House, Benjamin Franklin’s House, his printing press, (his sexual propriety), and the first Post Office in this country. However, as luck would have it, the Post Office and its small museum were closed, so I didn’t get to visit the first of its kind whose institution it sparked the current government is considering strangling. I’m a huge post office fan. I don’t know why. But the smaller, the better, and I mourn along with rural Oregonians, for example, who have to say good-bye to their post offices in, say, Idahna. Yes, I email and like to save as much money on postage as the next gal. But there’s something very historic and traditional about post offices themselves that I care about this nation preserving. From the tiniest outpost in Otis, Ore., to the inaugural one in Philly. (Thank you, Ben Franklin.)

The preserved Benjamin Franklin House demonstrates just how vertical the Colonial dwellings were. The ‘House’ is actually the shell of the former home that today has been equipped with a zig-zagging stairway up to its fourth floor. You get the feeling you’re ascending a staircase hung in mid-air. On each landing, you look upon the original home’s walls, where the Park Service has marked where had been, for example, the flues, original staircases, shelving units, and chimneys. Included, too, on freshly secured shelves, are bits and pieces—as well as those still whole—pottery and glass tea cups, saucers, and vessels from the late-1700s. The fact these remain extant at all blows the mind.

Next door to Franklin’s home and in the basement was the printing press that is an exact replica of what he and others used to create and disperse the news of the day, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence included. An enthusiastic Park Ranger, donning an apron, gave us a very cool printing press demonstration, as well as a good sense of just how friggin’ long it would have taken to have created each line of type, not to mention an entire page filled with words. Since the girls are familiar enough with email, composing documents on a computer, and futzing on iPhones, they got a good understanding of the lightning speed at which our lives move versus the tortoise’s pace of 300 years ago. We also learned the origin of the phrases “Upper Case” and “Lower Case”: The printers created an efficient system of retrieving the individual letters. They kept all the capital letters on the top shelf — in an upper case — and their smaller partners on a lower shelf, in a lower case. Voila.

True to our word to the girls, we traipsed back to the hotel suite, where they commenced completely zoning out in front of some horrid Nickelodeon TV program while Dave watched some golf tournament or other. (Tiger lost.) In other words: Those three were pigs in shit.

I did some blogging and then headed out to The Barnes Foundation and the Rodin Museum, one right next to the other on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Incredibly sadly, I learned the instant I entered the famed Barnes that one must buy a ticket up to three weeks in advance of a planned visit. No amount of what I thought were convincing puppy-dog eyes and even a little bit of adult whining cajoled the very strict and rule-following (sigh) Entrance Desk Nazi to allow me entry. I got to see an Ellsworth Kelley statue (of what resembled a perfect lightning bolt) at the Barnes’ entrance, which was neat to view considering Dave and I recently had taken in Jordan Schnitzer’s Kelley collection on view at the Portland Art Museum.

Disappointed but ready to view world-class art, I went next door to the Rodin Museum. On display there were many smaller studies Rodin had done for his creepy and also very moving work, Gates of Hell. The museum closed shortly after I arrived, but it was small and easy to wander through in a short amount of time, so I didn’t feel cheated.

Instead of returning right away to our suite, I found a nearby park bench, sat down, and set to finish my latest book, “In My Father’s Court,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, which my colleague Natan Meir had recommended I read. It’s a memoir of Singer’s very hardscrabble life as a young Hasid in Yiddish-speaking Poland in the years after WWI and up to the Bolshevik Revolution. The book offers a perspective on that life that I’d yet to read, and I loved the way Singer described, for example, how he could tell one Reb from another, based solely on the color and cut (or not) of his beard.

Dave and I are giddy to get to Boston, to show the girls where we lived for nearly two years when Dave was an M.I.T. graduate student and, during our final months in town, when I was pregnant with Alyssa. So we leave behind Philly, which to me seems like a huge project left incomplete. The city’s public art is beautiful, compelling, historic, colorful, and ubiquitous. Its museums and exhibits are many. Its architecture – tons of buildings in Beaux Arts and Art Deco style – is gorgeous, and its creative murals are rich in their symbolic depictions of many different types of scenes and historic periods. But the place also feels like it’s got a lot of work to do before it feels more pleasant, if not livable.

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News flash: Franklin did NOT die of syphilis!

August 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Uncategorized)

Last night, we walked to Philly’s Chinatown and had terrific Vietnamese food (even though Gilles and Florence insisted on calling them ‘chinois,’ despite my attempt to correct them to ‘vietnamiens’). We sat at a table next to a huge party from France. Bien sur — of course — we did. It seems the majority of tourists we’ve come across are French or from a French-speaking country, including Quebec, Senegal and, bien sur, France itself. As Dave said in his off-color way the other night (but not, dear God, in front of the girls), “You must be orgasming every five minutes with all the French going on here and with all your opportunities to speak it.” He’s kinda right, too. In fact, I find myself — when the eight of us are together — easily abandoning my boring, English-speaking family for the Millescamps. They are patient with my poor conjugations and repeated demands of, “Comment ca se dit en francais?” How do you say that in French? That way, though, I’ve learned new words, such as caleche (horse-drawn carriage), demanger (it’s a bad word), coccinelle (ladybug), rame (subway car), garde-livre (bookmark), bucose (bunkers in Northern France used by the Germans in WWII), sans-abri (homeless), citeeawl (City Hall), Ailee (Hayley), Messes (Macy’s), sheet (shit).

If you recognized that some of those words are in English, you’re right! However, we’ve had to train our ears to ‘get it’ as quickly as possible so as not to (constantly) bug our French friends with our “What in the hell?” facial expressions as they try so hard to wrap their lips around our more wide-mouthed vowels and difficult consonant combinations (like “th” as in “the,” and “ch”as  in “chair”). I am absolutely equally to blame for my poorly pronounced French. In fact, my accent is so American that when we were in New York on the subway together, we Knudsens happened upon some Quebecois while the Millescamps were on the other end of the car, with their backs to us. I delighted in listening to the Quebecois’ odd French accent and speaking to them about their trip to NYC, their native city of Montreal (which I hope to visit one day) and the couple’s pending parenthood. The moment we got off the car, Gilles asked me, “Was that you speaking French? I could tell.” Sigh. But wait — there’s more.

And, the other night, we went to this very exotic seafood restaurant, McCormick and Schmick. (I’d wanted something I’d never heard of before and not a chain, but oh well.) I sat next to 6-year-old Ines, who was having a tantrum over the “piquant” tomato sauce that had come with her “les pates.” In French, “pasta” is always plural. Being as helpful as possible, I asked our kind and patient waiter if he could exchange the “spicy” marinara-slathered noodles with an order of noodles slathered instead with butter and parmesan. He said he’d get that new order right away. Ines, uncertain if our conversation ended in her favor, asked what the waiter had said. I quickly translated that he’d soon bring her “la pate” she preferred. She nearly started bawling, looking across the table at her parents in abject horror, exclaiming: “I ONLY GET ONE NOODLE??!!”

Gilles has kindly stated that Dave is officially French, as Dave now can “faire la bise.” He can do that kiss-kiss thing on each cheek, including to Gilles which, for Dave (I can tell) still isn’t an entirely comfortable way to greet and say good-bye to a grown man. Dave might have a better chance of becoming French, however, if he could learn to pronounce that phrase ‘faire la bise,’ instead of ‘faire la biche,’ which means kissing a doe. Gilles also is doing a very valiant job of helping his kids learn French. He’s very insistent that when he knows a certain phrase, for example, he be the one to pronounce it for them, for Hugo and Ines to repeat. However, Gilles, despite trying very hard, still pronounces all “th”s as “z”s. “No, Hugo, you say ‘zree’ as ‘zree!’ Try it: ‘zzzzzzzzzzzzzzree!'” Dave — as you can imagine — juts his mug into these exchanges, gets down to the kids’ eye level, and gets them to imitate him as he practically spits “th”s in Shakespearean style. The kids are pretty good, (and we get pretty wet), though they easily default to pronouncing ‘three,’ for example, either as ‘zree,’ or ‘free.’

Impressively, despite the kids’ English-French language barrier, they’re all communicating together increasingly well. And key phrases are becoming recognizable and are being used, too. Such as, “a’ toi” — it’s your turn — “ca va?” — how are you? — and “waaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” — “I wanna go back to the hotel and watch a DVD now!” See? Facile, simple.

Today, we’ve done very little other than meander, as slowly as possible, through Philly’s Old City. The girls are kinda done touring. Still, we went to Declaration House, where Thomas Jefferson had rented two rooms from a dude named Graff and there drafted the Declaration of Independence. We also made it to Benjamin Franklin’s house, 10 feet behind the country’s first Post Office and around the corner from Jefferson’s peaceful and self-architected writing desk. Both these sites are overseen by the National Parks Service. At the Ben Franklin locale, I asked the guide if the father of the more efficient post office, fire department, and so much more actually died of syphilis. He laughed mightily in response and said, “No! Those carriage guys mix fact and fiction so that they’ll get bigger tips.” Indeed, we’d given our “Mr. Fount of Knowledge” carriage driver a 10 spot yesterday. But now I know the truth.

More later on the Old City.

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More Philly Cheesesteak with Wiz

August 26, 2012 at 3:00 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, our first full day in Philly, we took a trolley called the Phlash (I’m not making that up) to the Please Touch Museum. Really? They can say that around here with a straight face? I can only imagine the jokes that result from this museum’s ill-selected name. Not only that, but while it’s advertised as an interactive place of wonder for kids up to Alyssa’s age (if not beyond), we found it to be a toddler’s dream and an older kids’ nightmare. Oh well. We spent two hours there nonetheless, largely sipping tea in its cafe and watching the girls get engrossed in their DSs and Daddy’s iPhone.

After finally leaving the Please Touch (Me) Museum (oops, Freudian slip!), we took the Phlash (oy) back to the center of town to have lunch. Can you imagine how fun it is to have four hungry, hot, sweaty, bored, whiny children in tow? Let me tell you how wonderful an experience that is, no less than three times a day. We sat down at the first place on which we laid eyes: A really local joint whose top menu item was a Philly Cheesesteak with Wiz. The real thing. GROSS! Its menu, however, boasted vegetarian and vegan fare, as well, so I figured I could eat there, too, with very little problem.

Gilles’ habit is to have a When in Rome attitude: He went right along with Dave and ordered the heartattack on a roll (and a Corona) while Florence and I went for the veggies. While waiting for the kids’ and my orders, I watched the cooks create both their traditional and vegetarian entrees. Good thing I’m decently relaxed about my food these days, as the ‘chefs’ were, of course, fixing my “veggies-only” meal right on the same, disgusting grill also used for the meat-lovers’ repast. My food, while vegetables only, indeed had a faint meat-y taste and smell. Oh well.

I insisted we go to the Betsy Ross House, a historic landmark from the mid-1700s that does an amazing job of catapulting its visitors back to the mid-18th century. While I’ve been very, very fortunate to have visited lands as ancient as Israel and as old as Western Europe, I’m still struck by things that are 300 years old in this country even though folks from abroad find everything here very new. The Betsy Ross House is composed entirely of brick with wooden shutters, and it, like all the Colonial-era homes in this town, we’ve learned, is three stories high. These homes are incredibly vertical; walking up the staircase in the Ross house makes one wonder how the hell women in Colonial skirts, chasing after their many children (Betsy herself had seven, five of whom lived) didn’t kill themselves during the chase.

My favorite part of visiting any museum is its gift shop; it’s amazing what the buyers choose to hawk to the public. In the Betsy Ross House, for instance, there are pewter pencil sharpeners in the shape of Colonial homes. As well as flags with 13 stars, representing the first 13 colonies; American flag sampler kits; patriotic pencils; T-shirts emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes; and women’s baseball caps embroidered with “Material Girl.” Upon seeing that last item, I believe I felt Ms. Ross roll over in her grave. [At the National Museum of American Jewish History there are magnets with the Statue of Liberty on them. While I get the symbolic importance of Lady Liberty to Jewish immigrants from the late-19th and early 20th centuries, what is that kind of kitch doing in a museum of any stripe in Philadelphia, PA? And, sadly, the building housing the Liberty Bell didn’t have a museum shop at all; it was at the Betsy Ross House where Hayley bought a petit replica of the cracked bell.]

Speaking of the Liberty Bell, we loved visiting it. Not only was it free (a novetly around here, whereas in D.C. all museums we visited were free) but the museum included a wonderful and appropriately brief visual and written tour of the bell’s history and its continued significance to so many different individuals and groups, from Nelson Mandela to MLK to Suffragettes. The Bell itself is smaller than we’d expected; indeed, its lore made it seem bigger in our consciousness than it actually is, which seems appropriate for the inspirational role it’s played in many peoples’ struggles for freedom.

We also went to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Well, we got as far as the outside of it. There, we stopped briefly to view — and ham it up in front of — the famed statue of the Italian Stallion. Yes, Sylvester Stallone is entombed in bronze, but not atop the impressive stairway that leads into the the museum (per the inspirational scene from Rocky I); rather, he — arms raised, hands clad in boxing gloves — stands at the foot of the museum and somewhat off to the side. Still, a small and loyal crowd gathered around the statue’s base and they, like us, took silly looking photos with muscles flexed and fists raised. All tourists are the same, including Hugo, who knew nothing of Rocky but sure loved looking tough for the camera.

Today, we spent a little more time together as a family unit; we’re having a blast — day in, day out — with the Millescamps, and it also was nice just to do our own thing, with no schedule. We went first to The Franklin Institute, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display through mid-October. I felt this was a huge coup for Philly (and me!) and didn’t want to leave town without going to that exhibit. We arrived at this science center to learn the tour would be $31.50 per adult and only slightly less per child. With trepidation, I decided it indeed was an experience not to be missed, but the girls and Dave didn’t care enough to spend the equivalent of a lobster dinner on an exhibit of fragments of ancient scrolls. I’ll forgo the lobster, I decided. And, it was WELL WORTH the visit. Pottery, jewelry, weaponry, lamps and the decoded pieces of ancient parchment themselves — all from five thousand years ago — boggle the mind. There were a number of Amish folks who attended this exhibit; they even knew to come prepared with magnifying glasses, as some of the coins, for example, are so teeny, that without the assistance of the magnifying glass, it’s impossible to see the tiny inscriptions on them. I felt I got a double treat, as I spent as much time staring at the fragments of paper inscribed in Ancient Hebrew as I did at the Amish men and women.

They look just like they do in those bizarre commercials that run in newspapers about their stove-like heating systems. The older men wear beards cut in a specific way that leaves the hair on the chin a little bushy while the rest is cut quite close and linearly. The women wear no makeup and part their hair down the middle. They pull it back very tightly — revealing a bit of scalp above the ears — and cover their buns in an organza-ish bonnet, tied below the bun and above the nape. Their dresses all look homemade and are taken from the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Other exhibit attendees sported crosses, Jewish stars, or no religious adornment at all.

I wondered at the exhibit’s popularity at the same time I understand it: The Dead Sea Scrolls’ completely accidental discovery unlocks a lot of the mystery surrounding the origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as we know and recognize them today. The Franklin Institue did a terrific job displaying not only more-modern Jewish artifacts and art, but also those from Christianity and Islam, all mounted along with reflexive verses from the New Testament and the Koran, respectively. The exhibit serves as a reminder that the three main Western Religions share a common parentage, a fact that far too often seems lost or tossed aside.

Today was to be Jenn’s Jewish day, as I also went to the National Museum of American Jewish History, a place I’ve wanted to visit since learning that Philadelphia is home to the only such museum in the entire country and that it opened only in 2010. Alyssa and I went together. I figured she’d get bored in about 15 minutes. Two hours later, we left the museum after its employees (save for those in the gift shop) had gone home for the day. It is a very interactive place, which kept Alyssa interested in its displays, and its history is very accessible and spaciously presented, starting in 1654 and ending with the present day. An example of just how interactive this place is, is the bedroom recreated from an early 20th century immigrant’s home. It comes complete with a small armoir, in which the elementary-school visitor finds both period boys’ and girls’ clothing. Alyssa immediately donned the girls’ housedress and apron and sat upon the wire-framed bed. All the while, she flipped through period books on a small shelf, as well as those written in modern times about that era (such as the Rebecca books from the American Girl books publisher). We also listened to a continuous-loop-chain recording of a young girl who’s worked all day long, pleading with her father that she just wants to go to bed, she’s so very “toi-red.” The voices are those of “our” ancestors, who spoke inYiddish-accented English.

We experienced two additional novelties today.

For lunch, we met the Millescamps in the incredibly loud, crowded and very fun Reading Terminal Market. The Amish hawk their freshly made (heavily non-vegetarian) foods and produce here, as do myriad other people representing many types of food, from crepes to sushi to dahl. I asked a young Amish man (not yet bearded) about the ebb and flow of business inside the Market. He said that locals come to shop for produce and eat lunch there throughout the work week, and then the Market workers all brace for weekends’ influx of tourists, who purchase more sweets and less produce. Just like us. The girls had a huge ice cream cone at the end of their meals (Alyssa: ribs; Hayley: burger). Sigh.

Then, we found the row of horse-drawn carriages — located on the periphery of the Old City — and took a ride, scenting the horse, Emily, in all her urban glory during the entire, cloppy, 1/2-hour tour. It was worth it; our driver was a fount of intereting knowledge about the places we were passing, and he gave each of the girls a turn at “driving” Emily. The girls, of course, immediately started bargaining with one another about when it was the other’s turn and how long the turn would be…until our lovely driver reminded him that, actually, HE was in charge and Emily is HIS horse. Fortunately, the girls ‘got it’ immediately and sat back to enjoy the ride. Did you know Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in Philly? And that Benjamin Franklin died here of syphillis? So much to be so proud of! 

I am so glad we’ve come to Philadelphia. For those of you insomniac enough to follow this blog, you’ll recall that Dave didn’t really know why we were to stop here in the first place. Well, I find the contrast between D.C. and Philly particularly interesting. I believe Philly is too often overlooked as a destination city. Its American history is very rich and easily accessible (in terms of its location, but not its cost). And, yet, I get, too, why Philadelphia too often is passed over for, say, D.C., not to mention other cities on the Eastern Seaboard, like NYC: It’s quite dirty and raw here. The main plaza a block from our hotel is a haven for homeless folks; the streets are filthy, with cigarette and others’ butts everywhere; and it’s not nearly as manicured as D.C. When the guy who led our Phlash trolley tour yesterday said there is 10 percent more green space in Philly than in NYC’s Central Park, at first I was shocked and impressed. Then, I looked around me. The open, green space of which he spoke is ratty grass, unkempt greenery and stubby trees. In other words, Philly’s got a lot to brag about, but should do so prudently.

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Philly Cheesesteak with Wiz

August 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm (Uncategorized)

On our final two days in New York, we went to see “Newsies,” a Broadway production whose plot is so incredibly profound that even Hayley could follow exactly what was going on. Still, the singing and dancing — and gymnastics and ballet moves thrown in, all performed by very fit young men with rippling muscles… (but I digress) — were incredible, as was the staging. The stage resembled what I imagine the streets of New York looked like in the 1930s from the point of view of a poor, practically homeless newspaper-hocking boy, complete with steam rising through manhole covers. The French family chose to buy tickets to the production, too, which I thought was brave; it was fun sneaking peaks at them as they strained so damn hard to follow the slang and, thus, the plot. While their son, Hugo, wasn’t terribly into all the action, Ines really was. However, as we waltzed (literally) out of the Nederlander Theater on 41st street, it was Hugo who jigged the entire way to the street. And Florence and Gilles ended up getting the basic plot and loved seeing a real Broadway show. Gilles still is calling himself “The King of New York.” (If you’ve seen the production, you know to what I’m referring.)

We took another suggestion from my friend Loren and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. While Dave is adamant (adamant!!) that PDX’s Escape From New York Pizza is far better than John’s (as recommended by Loren…lest one forget), this professor-friend of mine nailed it with his recommendation to take in the beauty of the bridge and the 360-degree vistas it offers by walking across it (free of charge). (Well, it was free, until, that is, I got suckered into buying both Hayley and Alyssa a cool Statue of Liberty statuette, for $10 each. I have many lives, as I am, indeed, that same sucker who is born every minute.)

Before walking across the bridge and reading the informational placards in various spots along its span, I hadn’t known that Brooklyn was at one time a separate city from Manhattan. The building of the bridge and its completion marked the marriage of the two burroughs and their inclusion into New York City.

We are now in Philadelphia. Before leaving New York, though, we’d chosen not to wait in line at and ascend the Empire State Building. While the 20-minute wait didn’t deter us, the cost ($25 per adult) did. Then, yesterday, our first full day in the City of Brotherly Love, we heard first thing this morning the very disturbing news that a seemingly random shooting took place near the historic building made famous by the likes of King Kong. The eight of us froze as we read the headlines running like tickertape along the bottom of CNN broadcasts on our hotels’ TVs. (We’re staying in two separately hotels, lest a grammarian race to correct my use of the possessive  plural.)

WE’D JUST BEEN IN THE BIG APPLE, A MERE FEW BLOCKS FROM THAT BUILDING ITSELF. Why is New York such a magnet for bizarre violence? Could we have been there, that morning, having decided to stand in line and pay to take the elevator to the top? I called Mom at 7 a.m. PST, just in case she got a load of the news prior to learning we no longer were in NYC. She wasn’t relieved so much as devastated that yet another senseless act of violence had taken place in New York. Anyway, we’ve all since learned that the act of violence wasn’t as random as once thought; a disgruntled and recently fired man targeted his former boss and shot him dead. Shortly thereafter, the NYC PD shot dead the perpetrator. But still…

Now, I digress, as I include a few of the girls’ observations about our trip thus far and a couple funnies, too.

1. “There are a lot more African-Americans on the East Coast.” Uh-huh.

2. “Way more people here smoke than in Portland.” Yup.

3. Hayley has since learned that the borrough in which we stayed in New York actually isn’t called Mt. Hattan. It’s Manhattan.

4. Despite the visibly hung sign, “No dog may be off its leash at any time,” in Riverside Park — where I took my morning runs in NYC — dogs ON LEASH were the exception, not the rule. I dodged a number of very cute, very unaware dogs of myriad breeds. Their owners were less aware than the canines, their eyes trained on the ground as much — if not more — than their earthbound ‘best friends.’

5. The girls were agog at the number of “Kosher certified” signs they saw in NYC, not on food products themselves, but on the windows of eateries that sold significant amounts of kosher fare. Such markings on eateries in Portland simply don’t exist. They were equally surprised to see the huge number of men walking around with kippot, including the one African-American Hasid we saw. Only in New York…

6. Had I mentioned the increasingly large, stinking piles of garbage in the Big Apple?

7. Alyssa remains upset that she couldn’t check out a book at the Library of Congress in D.C.

Back to our story: Yesterday, Aug. 24, was Dave and my 16th wedding anniversary. Our home is under construction; our pets’ welfare during the construction and while we’re away continues to be a concern; the girls learned today who their teachers and classmates will be for the next school year; and it was 88 degrees here with who-knows-what-percentage humidity. In other words, there have been just a few things going on that distracted us from planning for — or even really acknowledging — our anniversary. I didn’t forget it (of course not!); I had a card ready to go (a real tear-jerker, I assure you) and a gift will be waiting for Dave upon our return home. Dave did forget our anniversary. But I must be honest in saying I truly didn’t care. We’ve had a very special, fun, educational, tres francais vacation, with our sweet girls in tow; I can think of no better circumstances under which to acknowledge and celebrate our past 16 years of marriage (and 22 years of being together).

And, last night we had a very “Jenn-and-Dave” evening: Staying in a Residence Inn in the center of Philadelphia, we wanted to take advantage of having a kitchenette and two separate rooms. So, I managed to feed the girls what leftovers we’d been scrounging and had put in the room’s fridge (waffles, scrambled eggs, chicken, carrots, broccoli, bananas) and then put them to bed behind a closed door before Dave and I got to sit quietly in the ‘living room’ and enjoy some dinner on our own. I dined on left-over veggies, rice cakes and Hayley’s disgusting Skippy peanut butter that we allow her on vacations, while Dave slurped down some Rice Krispies and the hotel’s thin, non-fat milk he usually won’t touch at home. I’d spirited from a store (under the girls’ unsuspecting eyes) a lovely bar of 88 percent dark chocolate and so polished off our meals with some squares of the near-black ambrosia. Before falling into bed (before 11 p.m.!), Dave watched sports and I typed away. It truly was a Jenn-and-Dave evening. We are the original party animals, and it’s a relief to us both that this trend of ours will continue into – hopefully – our 50th year and beyond.

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Ground Zero

August 22, 2012 at 11:03 pm (Uncategorized)

Visiting Ground Zero is free, but it’s recommended one get a timed-entry ticket to ensure being able to get into the area and spend as much time as one’d like at the hallowed grounds. Our first order of business on Tuesday was Ground Zero; the Millescamps were very pleased to go there, as the news from 9/11/01 not only was worldwide, of course, but they told us that it remains a topic of conversation around their water coolers even today and that they, like us, remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they got the news about the demise of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.

Ironically and coincidentally, I’d chosen a Tuesday for our visit; coincidentally as well, our timed entry was marked for close to the time of the actual nightmarish event on 9/11. Also, we had a gorgeous morning, though the skies weren’t as clear as on ‘that’ day nearly 11 years ago. My connection with Alyssa always will be tied to 9/11; she was a mere 6 weeks old on 9/11, and I clearly remember choosing to take her for a walk in the stroller on the afternoon of that bizarre day. Even in Portland, Ore., the no-fly ruling was in effect, and so the skies in our town not only were as cloudless as those in NYC, but they were silent, too. I walked infant Alyssa in a neighborhood covered by a blanket of silence, whose skies above, too, were soundless. That afternoon, it felt like Alyssa and I were the only two people around; it’s quite possible that that was the case, as I know everyone else was glued to their TV sets, watching over and over the footage taken by a tourist of the second plane slamming into the second tower and the two towers’ subsequent collapse.

Since then, Alyssa has done a report on 9/11 and feels she knows its details intimately and that she played a role in that day, merely by being alive. I believe that she — and Hayley, too — understood that when we went to Ground Zero as tourists they were bearing witness to very recent history and a horribly scary event that’s manifest in ubiquitous security checks at airports and all the museums and government buildings we visited in D.C., not to mention Ground Zero itself in NYC.

The hallowed ground indeed is hallowed. That might sound trite, but I really mean it, in the sense that a serious calm pervades the area now dedicated to two huge, dominating water features. Yes, in this place people talk constantly in their myriad tongues and, yes, the sounds of ongoing construction (including of the Freedom Tower) rattle the ear drums. But, too, there was something surreal about being at a place where two indescribably tall buildings once stood far, far above the Manhattan skyline and where now a memorial to them is all that’s left.

It’s hard to convey in words the power of the two fountains that exist within the footprint of the former Twin Towers. Each one is a huge square, inside which is a smaller square. Water appears to pour from the outer square, skim the surface of its base and then fall into the abyss of the smaller, inside square. The water falls into eternity, into an infinite hole that ends in the center of the Earth. That image is so perfectly appropriate and brilliantly conceived. I just couldn’t stop staring at the flow of water as it screamed down into the void.

These massive square fountains are rimmed in metal, each of the four sides carved with every single name of those claimed by the horror of 9/11. Dave and I thus began a mission to find the name of John Charles Jenkins, who was our landlord at 22 Crescent St., in Cambridge, Mass., and who was on the Boston-to-L.A.-bound plane that was hijacked and took each of its passengers with it as it crashed into the gound. John’s full name was carved into the North Fountain, and we took some pictures of it, explaining to the girls all the while the significance of John in our lives and that this amazing memorial to all the victims indeed memorializes the individual, too.

I’m not sure any of us fully recovered from that visit as we went along with the rest of our day.

We visited Central Park and tried — but failed — to locate the bridge featured in one of the scenes in “Enchanted.” We did, however, succeed at listening to an impressively drunk and practically toothless man rail against I’m-not-sure-what (nor did he, I’m certain). We also passed by the completely gated off Gramercy Tavern and nearly got run over by a number of bikers and cars as we attempted to cross from the East to the West side of the park like doomed ants scenting the path of someone’s fallen crumb of chocolate cake.

For dinner, we met up with my cousin Justin Director; Minnie joined us and the Frenchies, too, at 5 Napkins Burger. I hate that it’s “cool” for restaurants to have their music turned up to jet-engine decibel levels; still, we had a great evening, and I hadn’t seen Justin since his May ’11 marriage to Jennifer (Director!), so chatting a bit with him and introducing him to our special French friends was a great way to close the day, which actually didn’t end ’till close to 11 p.m.

Today, Wednesday, was a much shorter day. The day before — after our Ground Zero, Central Park (and, did I mention we also hit FAO Schwarz??) visits — as we walked from the 98th St. subway station to the West End Ave. apartment, we came across a couple begging for change. Alyssa — who, generally after tons of stimulation simply needs to process everything, decompress, and then come back up for air — already had dealt with not only a busy vacation thus far, but the emotion of Ground Zero juxtaposed against the crush of people and stuff at FAO Schwarz. Viewing the begging couple sent Alyssa over the edge. She started crying instantly. The man begged for change while his female companion — who was made up like a ‘normal’ person heading to the theater — sat in a wheelchair, sucking on what looked like a snowcone she held in one hand, while clutching a Dora the Explorer doll in the other. One of this woman’s eyes drooped; she seemed to succeed at making eye contact with each passerby; and she looked truly, truly helpless and pathetic. I believe the couple’s “look” indeed was a ploy to urge folks to throw change at them. But that’s the view of a hardened adult. Alyssa, on the other hand, couldn’t take it. She started crying, saying they looked so pathetic she just wanted to give them all her money. Even if they were faking their homeless look, she just wanted to help them, she said. She wailed harder, sweating all the while. We got her home, cooled her face with a wetted towel, gave her many hugs and then left her on her own to work through her upset and move on as best she could. That’s what works best for her when she gets so overwhelmed and/or in such funks. She had an hour to rally for our dinner out with Justin, and she did. We knew, however, that the next day, Wednesday, would be less busy.

It most certainly was.

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“Do they have trash cans in New York?”

August 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm (Uncategorized)

We’ve had two very full days.

On Monday, we went to Lenny’s Bagels to start the day, then to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, John’s Pizza in the Village (recommended by Loren Spielman), and Washington Square Park. That sounds like not terribly much…but everything took such a long time. Not only are there eight of us, but lines are long (especially at the South Ferry station from Battery Park from which one leaves to ‘do’ the Statue and then Ellis Island); we have four little ones with small stomachs that empty quickly; and those same four little ones have short legs that meander slowly. (Yes, ‘meander’ and ‘slowly’ are redundant, but I included the redundancy on purpose.) The Statue of Liberty is closed for upgrades and repairs until who-knows-when. Still, getting up close to Her is very exciting, and it was so sweet to see the French kids want to have their photo taken beneath the Statue’s feet with their right arm raised and left elbow bent, pretending to cradle a book in its crook.

It was Alyssa who commented — quite correctly — “I’m hearing more foreign languages than English.” She nailed it, as even Dave and I were astonished at just how little English we heard. We were able to identify most of the tongues (from French to Hebrew, and we boldly asked some folks what they were speaking thus identifying Romanian and Czech, too). At Ellis Island, there was a children and adult’s audio tour; the kids actually followed it (w/ the French kiddos traipsing along to the sounds of their native language), except for Alyssa, who requested the adult version. She got quite a bit out of the tour, focusing closely on it knowing that in 5th grade, she’ll be doing an immigration unit with Ellis Island as its centerpiece. Most striking to Hayley was the room reconstructed to resemble those where recently arrived immigrants got medical exams, notably of their eyes to ensure they hadn’t brought over trichomonas infections. In that room, there was an especially large photo of a doctor using a button hook otherwise used for lacing a shoe to prod a woman’s upper lid; I think that image will stay with Hayley for years. Eeeewwww. I’d been to Ellis Island when I was around Alyssa’s age; I vaguely remembered the setting and the interior of the main building there but certainly not its details. I enjoyed viewing it all through adult eyes. The room I most enjoyed was the one whose walls were covered with nearly floor-to-ceiling black-and-white photos of recently arrived immigrants in their fascinating garb. I tried divining from where they’d originated; the only person whose origines I guessed correctly was the aged Jewish man.

In Washington Square Park, we experienced what one often sees only in movies filmed in New York: Chess players in the park. There, Alyssa played chess against one of those chess guys who — based on movie scenes — seem to hang out in parks all day, moving pieces and slamming down timers at tables whose stone tops are chess boards. We happened upon Dwight, an African-American man I’d guess to be in his 50s; his nails were very nicely shaped, as was his thin mustache. Dwight — our chess maven — said it would be $5 for Alyssa to play against him; he offered a clocked or non-clocked match, and she smartly chose to play without a clock. Dwight realized immediately that Alyssa was a beginner; he was happy, he said, to offer lessons and suggestions while they duelled.

At first, the rest of us surrounded Alyssa, remarking on plays she might want to consider. We did that until she started yelling at us out of frustration; soon, Hayley and the Millescamps drifted away (they’re very smart folks), leaving Dave trying desperately (and failing miserably) to button his lip and me sitting silently next to Alyssa in a show of physical support. Dwight put Alyssa into check-mate after what seemed like two minutes. But then, true to his word, he took some time to show her some key openings, explaining the use of the most versatile pieces and teaching general chess strategy. She left his table happy; we left down $5; and Dwight is now my new best friend, as he handled Alyssa and her competition-fueled frustration with calm and humor. I’m pretty sure there was a movie crew on site to capture our in-the-park chess game. Anyway, it sure felt like we were part of a movie scene. We’d chosen a chess table on this very hot day in a slightly shaded, sun-dappled spot near one of the park’s entrances surrounded by tall trees and other men (exclusively so) playing chess while being observed by hovering passersby like ourselves.

We’d eaten a very late lunch that day and so weren’t in the mood for a full dinner at a restaurant. Instead, we spent a little time in the flat the Millescamps’ rented while having snacks and a drink. Then, as dusk fell, the four of us returned to my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Minnie’s apartment. The scent of very old garbage wafted down the wide sidewalks which would have seemed wider, were they not lined with trash piled in black bags, one on top of the other, along seemingly endless lengths of curb. Dave and I walked behind Alyssa and Hayley, who now are able to lead the way from the 98th Street subway station to the apartment on West End Avenue. “Do they have trash cans in New York?” Alyssa asked (yelled, rather) to no one in particular.

I clearly remember my first trip to New York, when I was somewhere around Alyssa and Hayley’s age. I understand that the trash piles these days are less impressive than those during my youth, but, still, they’d made a grand impression on me then as are on Alyssa now. We’ve all since engaged in numerous discussions about the trash, including one chat on Tuesday night with Minnie about when — at long last — the trash only one block from her home might finally be collected and hauled away. She’s lived in this town, in the same apartment, for 30-plus years. She really had no idea.

Next post will be about Tuesday.

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New York traffic sucks. No, really?

August 20, 2012 at 3:13 am (Uncategorized)

For our last day in D.C., it rained. Actually, it pissed. So we scratched our plans to go to the Arlington Cemetery (which I’d seen during my Close Up tour when I was a wee teen) and instead left earlier than planned for New York. That was at 1 p.m. There was indeed some traffic, though somewhat brief, on the Baltimore-Washington Expressway as we left D.C. and headed into Maryland proper. But that traffic jam was normal.

Then, we tooted along (with the Millescamps in their rental car and us in ours), through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, paying what felt like hundreds of dollars along the way in tolls, and then….STOP! We could see New York and ooohed and ahhhed at if from New Jersey, for more than an hour, as we sat and sat and sat on the New Jersey Turnpike, awaiting our freedom drive across the lower deck of the George Washington Bridge. Too late we learned — not via our unhelpful GPS but via one of the overhead digital signs on the highway — that the GWB was down to one lane. We arrived in Manhattan, where we’re staying with my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Minnie, at about 7:30, roughly 6.5 hours after leaving D.C. But it could have been worse: Turns out the Millescamps typed into their GPS “New York, New Jersey,” and ended up in entirely the wrong state. As they said to me via a text, at about 8:30: “On s’est trompe l’etat.” They missed the state entirely.

Tomorrow we will head to Liberty and Ellis islands for a Statue of Liberty viewing and Ellis Island tour. First, though, we’ll head to Lenny’s Bagels on Broadway for something authentic that, ‘thanks’ to the demise of Kettlemans in Portland, the girls are missing in their bagels and that we know the French will simply love.

It’s nearing 11 p.m., and I must get to bed. But first I gotta recount our final D.C. dinner experience. I’m ‘burying’ this portion of the entry down here in the hopes that my dad won’t catch wind of it. (God knows he doesn’t read this blog on his own, and anyone reading it to him can censor content.) As I’d noted in my previous entry, Florence wanted me to accompany her to Macy’s. That was a hoot; she loved trying on shoes, looking at and fingering the myriad purses, and considering purchasing oodles of sunglasses. (We both left emptyhanded after all.) We had a great time together. Suddenly, we both realized it was 8:15 p.m., and the kids had yet to eat dinner, and certainly neither had we. We returned to the hotel to find that Dave, in his fatherly wisdom, had ordered room service for the girls but that Gilles — worried about getting a rental car for the NYC jaunt — had not done anything about food for Ines and Hugo. We parents then agreed that, at nearly 9 p.m., the French kids would enjoy room service, too, and that all four kids would remain where they were — in our hotel room, splayed on our beds, hooked up either to DSs or movies via computer — while we adults had an adult dinner-date in the hotel restaurant.

Alyssa, big and eldest kid that she is, signed for their food (!) [including noting to the bell hop that one portion of the food was to be charged to our room and the other to the Millescamps’] and ensured they all ate and were decently well-behaved while we lackey parents had a grownup date downstairs, five floors below. The kids already had tested their comfort and familiarity with the hotel, and, last night, got the ultimate test that they all passed. I dare say that I, at least, also passed a certain test: Never in my wildest dreams would I previously have been OK with the concept — let alone the practice — of letting my kids stay on their own in the hotel room while we were not there. But, as Alyssa had said before I headed downstairs for dinner, “Mom, we prefer being on our own; this is way more fun and don’t want you here anyway.” So, we all got our way and had a simply wonderful time. By the time we returned upstairs (11 p.m., oops), Hugo was fast asleep in the spot Alyssa usually slept in, and the three girls were glassy-eyed with screen-time privileges. We all went to bed happy.

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The Bataan Death March(es) continues

August 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm (Uncategorized)

There would be no sleeping in today, no sir! Up at 8:30, we had breakfast with the Millescamps and headed to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Air and Space. (Before that, I took a swim in the hotel’s “pool.” I use “”s here because it’s only 4′ deep and not long at all; in fact, I swim from one end to the next in four or five crawl strokes, and I’m afraid to do a flip turn, as I prefer my knees without scrapes. Still, it’s a refreshing way to start the day here, in Humidville.)

At the Air and Space Museum, Dave and I took charge of Hayley and Ines and went directly to the exhibit featuring Amelia Earheart, about whom Hayley had done her 2nd-grade Hero Speech. She loved looking at pictures of the aviatrix, one of her most famous planes, and reading the placards about her hero. Alyssa went with Hugo and his folks; they covered a good deal of ground in this huge place! The most exciting activity for us in this museum was going inside the flight simulators. While Ines was my “gunner,” I took over as pilot and got up the guts to turn us onto our heads a few times. She loved it, crying out only once for “Maman!”

Then, it was lunch time; we hit a restaurant called Native Foods inside a museum dedicated to Native peoples that I’d read about in my D.C. guide book; it’s billed as great fare, largely authentic Native American. Clearly, most of their food was gluten free, and I had the easiest time yet finding something creative, wonderful, and not salad-only to eat. I had a purple potato torte (without dairy, despite its name), topped with a rich guacamole and sauteed squashes like zucchini and yellow summer squash. There was a legume of some sort included, too, and it filled me up in the best way possible.

The Millescamps wanted to return to the Air and Space Museum; we were D-U-N there and so went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. All along Hayley said she didn’t want to go through it (which we weren’t going to do in the first place) while Alyssa did. Dave took in Alyssa, and Hayley and I found a pedi-cab — which is a bike fitted with a seat for three above which flaps a breezy canopy, all hauled by a very healthy rider — and took a half-hour ride to sites we’d yet to see. We went over a bridge and around the Tidal Bay to see The Jefferson Memorial; the very new (less than a year old) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; the WWI Memorial to D.C.’s vets; the George Mason Memorial; and back to the Holocaust Museum. Hayley was very happy; she kept clasping my arm close to her chest and smiling, it was so wonderful. Alyssa got on the pedi-cab for its last loop, as we met her once she’d finished the museum’s tour. I think the quick bike tour Alyssa got — past the original Mint and the new one, too — was just what she needed after the Holocaust Museum self-guided tour. She’s yet to talk about it (hours later), so I know she’s processing all that she saw and took in. I’d been to this museum shortly after it opened; Abby and I went, in 1992, I believe, so I have some memories, though they could use refreshing. I’ll come again, and it’s better Dave experienced it for the first time and that Alyssa’s Holocaust education continue in this fashion, via this teacher (the building itself and all it houses).

The kids now, again, are in the pool; soon, it’ll be time for my wine, but first, Florence wants me to take her to Macy’s, “juste pour voir,” just to see, she said. But I know she might buy stuff; the euro still is stronger than the dollar, and this savvy family is aware of that!

First, though, some funnies having to do with language barriers:

1. Ines, 6, asked me in her cute, slightly raspy French: “If Hayley can read, why can’t she talk to me in French?”

2. Gilles loves cars and represents Goodyear professionally. Last night he spent time describing a recent trip he took with clients to the Daytona 500 and some of the cars there and their parts. Including the en-GINE, pronounced kinda like “va-GIN-a.” I literally had to get up from where we were seated in the hotel lobby and race around the corner to avoid laughing as hard as I was in Gilles’ face. Soon, the tears started streaming down my face; at that point, and as I returned to our little group of linguistically challenged parents, Dave was in the midst of explaining Gilles’ pronunciation folly. The laughter continued.

3. Gilles loves planning trips and know Dave loves golf and that I love France. So Gilles is determined to plan our next trip abroad; it’s to include a jaunt to Scotland where Dave will play on its most famous course, and then a protracted stay in their new home in the Pas de Calais village of Camphin-en-Pevele. Gilles looked Dave in the eye and said he’d like to arrange his trip to “SaTandroo” (with a slightly hard ‘r’). Dave looked at me like he had no idea what’d hit him. I knew that Gilles was pronouncing St. Andrew (Scotland) in the French way, with emphasis on all the “wrong” syllables. But I waited a beat until I explained all that to both Dave and Gilles: I let the suffering continue a few seconds, as it was hilarious watching each man struggle with being polite and trying to understand what the hell was going on.

4. Hugo and Alyssa have taken to playing chess together during our shared meals. Apparently, according to Alyssa, the French and American rules differ; she’s actually right (as in: Hugo is not playing correctly, but tant pis!), but it’s funny to watch them continue to play, each just going along with the game at hand, for it takes too much effort to constantly have one of Hugo’s parents translate for him while I do the same for Alyssa.

5. Gilles and Dave are nearly the same height (with Dave being about an inch taller); as a result, it seems, Gilles forgets that Dave cannot speak French despite the fact they literally see eye-to-eye. Gilles, thus, keeps turning to Dave and rattling off sentences en francais; the expression on Dave’s face is fantastic, faced with a barrage of words he cannot decipher. Somewhat along the same lines, at breakfast this morning, Gilles finally looked at Florence and me and said (in French), “I understand what you say in English, but not Dave; he swallows his words. I try to understand him and even when he repeats himself, I still don’t understand; I try to guess at words from the context but never really get it.” We had a a good laugh at the poor guy’s expense but then let him in on the joke. He smiled sheepishly and didn’t protest Gilles’ explanation.

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