jump to navigation

The TSA Searched My Hair July 30, 2013

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , , ,
5 comments

Image

Oh, the joys of travel.

Over Spring Break, I flew back to Detroit and environs to see my mother, who’d recently moved closer to my brother. He asked me to run my flight options by him as it’s an hour’s drive to the airport. The flight I’d bookmarked worked fine. So far, so good.

But when I got to LAX, the Delta kiosk spit out my credit card and refused to issue a boarding pass. It directed me to “See an agent.”  I got in line and shuffled along with my bag. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled out all the trip itinerary I’d printed out from my computer. The woman looked confused. “Where’s the paper with the confirmation number?” she asked. She checked her computer and then I heard the dreaded words. “You don’t seem to have actually purchased a ticket.”

I remember crying with disbelief. Could I really be so stupid? And of course, the answer was yes! I had bookmarked but neglected to confirm and pay for my $340 ticket! But, the agent informed me that I was in luck. Although this flight was sold out, there was one seat left on the next flight. And it was only going to cost $1300. “But I could fly to London for that!” I cried.

“Only one seat left,” she reminded me, “so you have to decide now if you want it.”  I tearfully handed her my credit card.

Now on the plus side, I got a seat in First Class. When the flight attendant brought out a basket of candy bars, I couldn’t believe they were free. I had told the guy sitting next to me my tale of woe and he ventured, “I actually think that might be the most expensive Milky Way you’ve ever eaten.” Ouch! When the basket-lady came round again, I, the basket-case, grabbed three more to get my money’s worth. I’m a clever one.

I’m going to skip over losing my keys at the airport for fear it could reactivate my PTSD. And yes, why did I take my keys with me on vacation? My son would locate these two days later at the TSA’s Lost and Found office manned by the world’s most disgruntled employee. But I digress. Did I mention that I had to be driven straight from LAX to Urgent Care as I’d developed a full-blown ear infection and had to be back at school the next day? But those are just Bonus Features.

Now what you’ve been waiting for – my hair.  No sooner had I gone through the Security “Assume the Position” Screener in Detroit then I was asked to step aside. “We need to search your hair,” the TSA woman said matter-of-factly. Huh? Okay, my hair tends to look like a native shrub, but I’d just had it cut for the trip. It’s not like anyone would mistake me for Angela Davis or Marge Simpson.

I was so stunned at this request that all I could do was laugh as the woman proceeded to massage my head. (It’s not the same with gloved hands.) I told her I had a bit of bed head in the back and asked if she could fix that. I couldn’t stop laughing.

When I told my students the next day what had happened, one boy suggested that I could have had a machine gun in my hair. “Really?” I asked incredulously. “Well, maybe a miniature one?” he offered. I made a mental note that I needed to reteach measurement and probability.

Rest assured that even when my hair is in the air, you can fly with peace of mind.

Drawing by Eli

1/4 of July June 13, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

A friend recently asked me about my family’s sojourn in Mexico. I told her I’d send a link to this post which I published in 2007. But, low and behold, it  had vanished! As in “Gone Baby Gone.” Fortunately, in my early days of blogging, I  printed out a copy of everything…just in case.  So here it is again in all of its “Old Glory.”

When I was a kid growing up in Omaha, the days leading up the 4th of July included a pilgrimage just outside the city limits to buy fireworks. These were piddly-ass fireworks by today’s standards; sparklers, snakes, pinwheels, pop-bottle rockets, and the real show stopper – the Roman candle. My brother always managed to secure some M80s and cherry bombs. These served to remind us that it WAS possible to blow your hand off with one of these babies.

Neighborhood families would pool their fireworks and put on a show. My father arrived carrying a length of a tin downspout to these gatherings, which did double duty as a poor man’s rocket launcher.

As kids, we were only allowed to play with the snakes and sparklers on our own. We wrote our names in the air, immune to the bacon-grease snap, snap, snapping on our arms. On July 5th, the air smelled vaguely like gunpowder and the driveway had black spots where the snakes that grown, writhed, then turned to ash.

The 4th of July I’m thinking about today though was spent in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. We were desperately looking for Puente Numero Dos – Bridge Number Two, the only route, save wading crossing the Rio Grande, to get back into the U.S.

My family; husband Richard and sons, Taylor, 10, and Ian, 6, and I had moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to escape the high cost of living in New York. We’d had a ridiculously fun time in Zihuataneo, Mexico a year before and Mexico and the ghost of Frido Kahlo beckoned. Never mind that we’d never actually set foot in San Miguel. Hey, I’d done the research.

“You mean you’re moving to NEW Mexico,” friends queried.  “No, Mexico!”  we replied rather enjoying the look of shock on their faces. We were ready for a change, and we were up for anything, short of moving to New Jersey. A sojourn in Mexico sounded exotic and the price was right.

San Miguel de Allende is a gorgeous colonial gem nestled in the mountains three hours north of Mexico City. It’s long been a mecca for artists and has an established colony of American expats, who are drawn by San Miguel’s beauty and cheap real estate.

I flew to San Miguel two weeks before the arrival of the troops. It was my job to secure the beachhead and lease a house. “Remember,” my husband implored. “Only rent a house that’s already furnished and has a telephone.”

Well, can you imagine what kind of house I rented?  Three floors stacked like a stucco layer cake. No furniture and no phone. It was the garage that was the deal maker. Richard and the boys were flying to Omaha so my parents could give us their 4-cylinder Oldsmobile Firenza station wagon. We hadn’t had  a car in 11 years so this was a BIG deal. We couldn’t park our new/old car on the street!

My family arrived. It was then I realized it wasn’t New York that made me feel stressed. It was my family. Not a good sign. The house I’d rented had recently been remodeled and all of the construction had stirred up the scorpions. Every time we took a shower, a scorpion climbed out of the drain. Just the anticipation of their appearance made the shower scene in “Psycho” seem G-rated. There were so many scorpions that I took to sleeping with a flashlight on and aimed at the ceiling. Just in case.

Four days after we’d moved in, the toilet on the second floor wouldn’t flush. We tied a dog leash to a bucket and lowered it into the cistern beneath the patio to get water while awaiting the eminent arrival of the “handyman.” We carried the bucket of water up two flights of stairs just so we could use the toilet. I was starting to feel like I lived in Africa – my life was starting to revolve around obtaining water. All I needed was a jar to transport it on my head.

I’d first been shown the house during siesta time, the only time of day it turned out that the aerobic studio across the street was not open. We were awakened at 6 a.m. each morning by a pulsating disco beat and a woman yelling, “Uno, dos, tres!”  They knocked off for siesta then continued until 10 p.m. Disco was still alive in San Miguel.

The burro next door began braying at the crack of dawn. This was followed by ten minutes of silence and then the braying started in earnest. We joked that it was the Mexican snooze alarm. And the coyote tethered to the roof on the other side of us howled at night. We laid awake in bed. Less than three weeks into our sojourn, we’d lapsed into severe culture shock. For the first time I uttered the “L word” – leave.

There was one small problem. I’d signed a two-year lease and our landlord, Pat, had no intention of letting us wriggle out of it. Pat was a widow from Michigan who’d retired to Mexico. She’d married a local attorney, a certain Sr. Caballero. Pat bore more than a passing resemblance to Marjorie Mane’s “Ma Kettle” character. Finally, we told Pat we needed to talk about our situation.  I’d paid first and last month’s rent plus a security/cleaning deposit, so I thought that just maybe, she’d let us off the hook.

Just in case she wanted to play hardball, I was the designated weeper. The trouble was, once I started crying, “I want to go home,” it was no longer an act. I really wanted to go home. Pat was unfazed. “You know what you need?” she said matter of factly. “You need to go to the corn roast over at the Presbyterian church and meet some nice folks.” She added that if we did try and break the lease, her husband, Sr. Caberro, would have our car impounded so we COULDN’T leave.

Panicking, I ran up to the U.S. Consulate to talk to Colonel Maher, an ex-CIA op, whom I’d met with once before. It was siesta time and the consulate was officially closed, but the shuttered windows to his office were open. I could see him sitting in the dark, feet up on his desk, and smoking a cigar. He looked like he was plotting to overthrow a mid-sized country.

I called to him and he came over to the window. I breathlessly explained our predicament. He listened attentively, chomping on the cigar before giving me his best legal advice.  “I know Sr. Cabellero,” he said. “He’s well connected. So my advice to you is to disappear.” The shutters snapped shut.

Now when I’d leased the house, we’d also inherited a maid, Lara, from the previous tenants. Lara was incredibly kind and was paid so little I would have felt guilty not to keep her on. We’d never had a maid before and I felt so awkward about having someone clean up after me that I walked around and helped her clean. Lara told me the previous tenants, two American women, had left suddenly in the middle of the night after only two months. A pattern was beginning to emerge..

We frantically began packing up the car with Lara’s help. Pat lived just up the street and had a clear view of our house so there was an air of urgency. All of the furniture I’d bought at the mercado would go to Lara, and all of the housewares as well. To my mind it was not much, but I came to realize that to Lara, it was the world.  We knew her husband had cancer and she was supporting an unknown number of children.

A relative of Lara’s arrived with a truck to cart off the furniture. Lara’s husband sat in the back of the truck, too weak to help. I wrote out a letter and in my broken Spanish bequeathed all of  our personal items to Lara as regalos, or gifts. Lara cried with happiness. Her children would sleep in beds for the first time that night. We kept one small side table with a hand carved top, which we tied to the top of the car.

When Richard and the boys had arrived three weeks earlier, the car was packed to the gills. Now I had to squeeze in, along with my luggage and a set of Mexican pottery that I couldn’t bear to leave behind. The car was essentially a low-rider heaving under the added weight. Richard took the hills out of town slowly. With every bump, we could hear the bottom of the car scrape against the cobblestoned street. We headed north. From time to time we looked in the rear view mirror, half expecting to see Sr. Caballero chasing us with a posse.

Richard was retracing the route he’s already driven to get to San Miguel, but for me this was uncharted terrain.  I was trying to take in the surreal landscape that is northern Mexico. In the middle of nowhere, a person would appear alongside of the road. We passed people who sold dried rattlesnake skins for a living. They lived in “houses” with organ cactus as walls.

The first night we stopped at motel that had never seen better days. When the guy at the front desk asked for our address, we mumbled something about being in transition. “Hippies!” he ascertained. This was the early 90s and the mere mention of “hippies” made me feel like we’d fallen through a rip in some time continuum. But, Taylor set him straight. “We’re homeless!” he announced.

The plan was to cross the border into Laredo, Texas. On the south side of the Rio Grande, lies the sprawling bastard child city that is Nuevo Laredo. It’s the equivilent to living on the wrong side of the tracks. Nuevo Laredo has been plagued by the kind of violence that accompanies drug trafficking. Wearing a badge is akin to wearing a target.

It was summer and the temperature hadn’t fallen below 100 for days. Even after the sun had finally set, there was no relief from the heat. When we finally saw the lights of Nuevo Laredo we cheered. In the distance, we could see the lights of Laredo, Texas – the promised land. All we had to do now was find Puente Numero Dos and we’d be home free. It was then that steam from the radiator began billowing out from the hood. We cursed the universe. Then cursed it some more. We pulled over and waited for the temperature gauge to go down then drove another mile. We stopped and repeated the ritual. It was slow going.

The boys’ survival instincts had obviously kicked in because they’d stopped talking altogether. They knew the next thing to blow was going to be mom or dad. Finally, we saw the sign; Puente Numero Dos.

A huge American flag waved on the Texas side of the bridge. I’d never felt such a surge of patriotism. That’s my flag! I felt like the character Sally Field played in, Not Without My Daughter after she’s recovered her kidnapped child and is running toward the American flag at the embassy.

Only 40 feet from the border, plumes of steam engulfed the car and we shut off the engine. I steered and Richard pushed. Slowly, we inched toward American soil. A U.S. Customs agent walked over to greet us. Never had English sounded so melodic. We stood there sweating and shell shocked. As the border agent checked our papers, we heard what sounded like a series of explosions. “What’s going on?” we asked.  The border agent looked at us, incredulously. “It’s the Fourth of July!“ he said. We looked up to see the sky filled with fireworks.  We didn’t care that they were red, white, and green.

We got the last room at La Quinta, only a stone’s throw from the bridge on the American side. Taylor walked into the room and promptly threw up. He then rinsed out his mouth (“Mom, can I drink the water now?”) and announced, “I’m hungry.  Can we go somewhere and eat?”  Richard took the boys to the Denny’s next door where they gorged on chicken-fried steak. Me, I laid on the bed in the air-conditioned room and turned on the TV. The sound of Ted Koppel’s voice was the sweetest lullaby I’d ever heard.

English as a Foreign Language May 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

chucks&tea

I’d like to think I’ve got Culture – only it’s spelled with a “K.” So that’s how Lesley and I ended up having a posh lunch at The Swan in Southwold on the Suffolk coast.

The bartender explained that we could have a drink OR if we wanted to eat in the dining room, we could have two courses AND a drink for a bargain price.

Lesley literally sprinted to the dining room where I enjoyed gammon (think thick ham) and mash (as in potatoes) and a glass of wine. Everyone was wearing a suit and tie and looked frightfully proper. But when you’re wearing Converse aka Chucks in the UK, you can just pass yourself off as eccentric. We had the most lovely lunch and convinced the waitress (who confided her nickname was “The Rottweiler”) to take our picture.

Though we share a common language, I confess that when I’m in England I feel like I’m an English Language Learner. Just when I’d gotten used to “car park” and “pegging out the wash,” I was inundated with a barrage of new expressions that bear repeating.

Take “bovver boots.” While in Southwold, Lesley and I popped into Daddy Longlegs, where I sprang for a pair of red boots. There were Doc Martens on the shelf above, but I loved the cherry-stained color of the ones I bought. The clerk informed me they were handmade in Spain. (I asked if a man named Manuel had manually caressed them, and she rather fancied that idea.)

Back in Fram, I put them on to wear out to the pub. As we walked down the street, Lesley informed me I looked like a “bovver boy.”  Huh?  “They’re “bovver boots” she replied, and then seeing my blank stare, informed me that “bovver” is the working class equivalent of “bother.”

When we got home from the pub, us giggling Googlers found “bovver boots” and “bovver boy” in the Urban Dictionary. I learned that they (and yes, Doc Martens are the ultimate bovver boots) are worn by undesirables looking for trouble. Moi? I’m flattered, though to achieve the real bovver boy look, I’d need to shave my hair and wear braces (suspenders). There’s also a lot of saying “oi” involved, as it’s Cockney slang for “hey.” (Thanks again to the Urban Dictionary.)

I’ll leave you with a few English expressions that will add spice (and not just curry) to any conversation:

I’d like to p%ss on his chips!
I don’t know whether to take a p%ss or to comb my hair.
AND
I don’t trust her.  She’s got one eye on the pot and the other up the chimney!

 


What’s Buggin’ Me May 21, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , , , ,
3 comments

bug

 

 

The weather in England is fabulous, so what could be wrong? I’ve been through two, count them TWO, computer adaptors, and I’m now running on the second battery. T’was not meant to be. But, I just had to post this photo of a poster I took in the window of a shop at Southwold.

I’m half-way round the world and the first thing I thought of when I saw it was, “Bug Girl (on my blogroll) would love this!”

Lesley and I had an outrageously fun day in London. We went to the National Gallery first. Touring a gallery with Lesley is oh so educational.  She studied Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, in which Venus lounges while Mars is having a snooze, and announced, “They’ve obviously just had sex, he’s smoked a fag and is already asleep.” I think these cultural exchanges are invaluable.

When I return, I shall post about our romp through The Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, and resting on the crypts of some of Britain’s most historic personages. In the meantime, Lesley and I are conspiring to win the Turner Prize, and there are chickens that need tending. From across the pond.

Always, Jan

Leaving on a Jet Plane May 16, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

jet

Forget what clothes I should pack. I’m too busy trying to figure out which cables, battery chargers, and atomic reactors I need to take to keep me and my Significant Other (Mac) up and running in England. Then there’s the cell phone and the digital camera…  So much for getting away from it all! If you’re feeling a tad envious that I’m jetting off, just reread Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet. Feel better now?

Photo Credit: Leaving on a jet plane by Aky B on Flickr.

London Calling May 9, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
3 comments
picture-4

Screen shot of Lesley showing me her date book so I would pick a date.

I’m off to England, I’m off to see the queen!  No, not THAT old girl – my friend Lesley, a sassy redhead, who could teach the royals a thing or two about having a good time.

“You know this is all quite mad?” Lesley said as we chatted via SKYPE. But it wasn’t so much of a question as a statement of fact.

But some days, I think the whole world’s gone mad. Fortunately, I subscribe to the “Life is short, eat dessert first” school of thought. So, when I found out I got accepted to graduate school (See Masters of the Universe), I knew I needed to reward myself before I got bogged down with classes two nights a week for the next year. And since the classes start only four days after the last day of school in June, it had to be soon – before the end of school.

Lesley and I met via the internet less than two years ago. When she invited my husband and me to come to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her family in 2007, all of our friends thought we’d both gone quite mad. (See Thinking of England) But, we’re two crazy redheads, and yes, everything they say about redheads is true! I once read an interview with a man who’d lived to be 105. He said his secret to a long life was he stayed away from “wine, whiskey, and red-headed women.” Poor old sot!

After Lesley and her family spent two fabulous weeks with us last summer, we both worried it would be too long until we met again. So, I couldn’t believe it when she’d offered to pay half my airfare just to get me over there. I found a cheap enough flight, so I’m going on my own dime. I was able to sandwich (as in The Earl of…) the trip in between Testing and Open House, so I’ll only miss five days of school. The MANDATORY MEETING for grad school is May 15th. On May 16th, I’m outta here til May 25th.

We’re taking the train to London for a day to see the art at the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. The rest of the time, I’ll be blissfully enjoying English village life in Framlingham where we plan to sit out front of The Dancing Goat cafe each morning, have breakfast, and watch the world go by.

I’m still deciding whether to take my laptop along so I can blog from the UK. I’ve been known to get “the DTs” (Digital Tremors) when deprived access to the internet for too long. I’m SO not PC –  as in I don’t do PCs, so I might have to pack my Mac. Okay, I’m taking it. You should know that we redheads are prone to impulsive behavior, but we DO know how to have a good time.

Can’t help but add Mad World from one of my all-time favorite movies, Donnie Darko.

Thinking of England December 30, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

littleengland

I was done writing cloying holiday posts, but then my friend Nora sent me this Christmas ornament. It arrived in a big box delivered on Christmas morning and was handed to me by an exceptionally cheery guy from Fedex, who smelled of pine and overtime.

Alas, I tried to pry the little suitcase open, hoping to find a miniature raincoat and Wellies, but no luck. It did remind me though of what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we’d just arrived in England so I could finally meet Lesley, the friend I’d met via the internet only months earlier. Yes, it was all crazy, but some things in life are meant to be. I made up a cover story so my parents wouldn’t worry – something about visiting people we’d met in California.

I didn’t even know Lesley’s real name and actual address til the week before we left. At one point I emailed her and asked if she wasn’t concerned that we might be serial killers and she could end up in a shallow grave, what with us being Americans and all. Lesley was nonplussed. She informed me her brother was a police detective in Ipswich, so we’d never get away with it.

When we staggered off the plane at Heathrow, there was Lesley and her husband, Ian, waiting. We fortified ourselves with coffee (Yes!) and then made the two-hour drive back to Framlingham in Suffolk. All bodies were accounted for.

England was a dream. Cold and grey, but after the relentless California sunshine, England seemed so utterly – English! We toured the local castle, queued up for fish and chips in Aldeburgh, and trapsed the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. We spent the most memorable New Year’s Eve ever at a posh hotel outside London as their guests. A piper escorted us into a magical wonderland where we sat at a table awash with glitter and crystal. There was unlimited champagne and the revelers sang every rousing verse of “Rule Brittannia” and “Oh Jerusalem” while balloons whooshed overhead like incoming missles.

I figured this was how the English celebrate, what with the waving of the Union Jack and the English flag of St. George until Lesley disabused me of this notion. She looked almost aghast and confided this was all rather over the top – downright Las Vegas-y. (said with a wrinkle of the nose). Oh. How ironic that the first song everyone danced to was “La Bamba.” Pacoima posh.

But the soundtrack for our visit was Amy Winehouse’s CD, which greeted us each morning after Lesley yelled, “Get up, you lazy bastards!” That’s what you call the Queen’s English, I believe. I was surprised that the grass was green in January and most of the houses had red tile roofs mottled with moss, while others were thatched. Indian restaurants were “curry houses” and  “bits and pieces” is English for what we call leftovers or odds and ends. Following this logic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was made from bits and pieces.

But this is the memory I hold dearest. We’d all agreed to eat a late dinner, so while everyone else took a nap, Lesley and I stole away in the dark. Not only was it cold, it was spitting rain. We followed a winding route along a path marked “Lover’s Lane,” which led over a hill. I lost my sense of direction and imagined being adrift out on the moors, even though there were no moors, and we could see the lights of nearby houses. We were taking the back way to Lesley’s favorite pub, The Station, once actually the village train station.

Never could I have imagined how welcoming a English pub could be on a cold winter’s night. A three-foot wide cloud of mistletoe floated in front of the bar. (The bartender, Gareth, is also an arborist.) It was still early and not yet crowded. Lesley asked if we could sit in the “snug,” a small room behind the main pub and off the kitchen. A party had reserved the room, but they weren’t due for an hour so we got the okay.

The snug was aptly named. There was a crackling fire and it was just big enough for two long farmhouse tables which had been set for dinner. It looked like a medieval feast was in the offing. Lesley and I sat at one end of the table and she ordered a bottle of red wine. You could hear the clanking of pots in the kitchen and the pop of the fire. Aside from a plastic child’s highchair folded up in the corner, it probably looked the same as it did a hundred some years ago. (Okay, white Christmas lights outlined the windows.)  As we sat there sharing a bottle of wine by candlelight, this is what went through my mind: I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this magical place with this amazing person I met on the internet! I must take in every detail and commit it to memory because this is the one of the most amazing nights of my life!

We talked and drank, and talked some more. When we’d finished the bottle, we bid farewell to Gareth, and walked back home to join the others. It is this memory that warms my heart when I’m thinking of England.

California Christmas December 14, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

christmasca

I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without snow. So for the first two years I lived in California, I dutifully flew home to spend the holidays with my family in Nebraska. This was a spiritual pilgrimage as well, as I did learn there really is such a thing as Purgatory – it’s being stranded indefinitely at the Denver Airport waiting for the weather “to clear.”

My husband, Richard, is from Idaho so even after we got married we alternated flying back and forth between these two exotic snow-covered destinations at Christmas. But at some point, traveling with two small children over the holidays got to be too much. It was time to establish our own holiday traditions – but a Christmas without snow?

Can you say Feliz Navidad? While everyone was talking North Pole, I found my answer to a Christmas without snow South of the Border. When we lived in New York, one year we flew to Mexico the day after Christmas. We stayed in Zihuantanejo, a small fishing village on the Pacific Coast.  This is what I remember. As we rode in a taxi with no seat belts to our hotel, a huge pig sauntered across the road. I turned to my husband and said, “This isn’t a developing country – this is the Third World!) When we arrived at our hotel shortly after 8 a.m., the manager, Pepe, had two icy Coronas in our hands before our luggage hit the ground.

Not only was Mexico warm and sunny, but it was (dare I say it?) so Christmasy! There were Christmas trees at all the hotels and restaurants decorated with tin and straw ornaments and elaborate nativity scenes nestled in piles of Spanish moss. It was gorgeous, colorful, and the atmosphere was festive. Think about it. Margaritas are green and hot sauce is red. My sons got to break open a red and white star pinata and the kids were excited to get a piece of candy and an orange!

When we moved back to California it was a done deal. Adapt or perish. Tradition is tradition, but we chose to embrace new traditions. Last week we put up the tree. It’s a real one as I love that fresh pine smell (not the pine scent you spray around the house). Our tree is festooned with Mexican tin ornaments and colorful woven spirals and straw angels. (Which also makes it earthquake friendly!) There’s only one ornament on the tree that’s breakable. It’s a clay angel bell we bought the first year we were married at the gift shop outside Mijares, a local Mexican restaurant that’s still in business. The angel dangles from the top branch of the tree as a reminder of just how fragile life can be.

The stockings are hung from the chimney. And yes, when the temperature dips to 45 degrees in Los Angeles, it really feels like it’s freezing. (Who forgot to add insulation to the houses here?) Our pig, Maisie, loves to lay in front of the fireplace so I guess we really have gone Third World.

So if you drop by our house on Christmas Eve, prepare to enjoy tamales and Mexican hot chocolate.  With Global Warming, I just wanted to give everyone a heads up as to what could be in store. In the meantime, Feliz Navidad!

Back to Reality July 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

It took two cars to transport my friends from England to LAX with all their plunder. They gave it their all trying to buoy the U.S. economy. Lesley spent valiantly until the very end. Down to her last $20, she fixated on a lawn ornament at Joanne’s, a metal stake that featured a pyramid of farm animals. She carried this Americana saber around for half an hour before finally admitting it wouldn’t fit in her suitcase.

Instead, Lesley bought some new fangled things, evidently unavailable in England, called paper napkins.These matched the stack of plastic picnic plates she’d purchased on sale. Hey, the dollar is worth only 50 percent of the English pound and all items were 60 percent off. If you do the math, the cashier was handing out cash.

Facing the 11-hour flight back to Heathrow, our friends were in no great hurry to leave until I told them the tonic had run out. That sent them packing. Now we’re left with a big bottle of gin, no tonic, and sadly, no houseguests.

Who could ever have imagined that I’d meet someone over the internet, jet off to spend New Year’s Eve with their family in England, and they’d be sitting out on my porch in sunny California sipping G&Ts six months later? When Richard left for the airport with Ian and Lucy, he said they both waved to our house and said, “Goodbye our American home!”

So, after hosting a two-week long party that made the Boston Tea Party look like a rather sedate and proper affair, it’s back to reality. Reality sucks.

Here’s the skinny on the cultural exchange between the Brits and the Americans. Let’s keep score. (If you’re a teacher, you might want to use a Venn diagram.)

The British learned:

People in LA are way nicer than people in snotty San Francisco.

People in the U.S. have pigs living inside and broom closets outside.

If you use the toilet at a restaurant, someone will take away your salad.

The sun may never set on the British Empire, but it’s always sunny in California

If you order a hamburger “without salad,” you have to also specify that you don’t want lettuce, tomato, or anything green.

The Dewey Decimal system is alive and well in America. (Lesley made a surprise spot check)

Americans eat these strange contraptions called artichokes. Then, after performing a bizarre cutting ritual, consume their hearts, which are actually quite tasty.

The Americans learned:

Brits call leftovers “bits and pieces.”

Brits take this shagging thing quite seriously and also engage in something referred to as snogging, which they say the Scots also do with sheep. We talked about joining them in Scotland to check our the veracity of this claim.

Brits refer to the lowly rhinestone as “diamonte” and covet it like raccoons.

People from Manchester, England are referred to as Manculians, which is just downright kinky.

I’d say it was an even exchange with the common currency being laughter. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard and so much in ages. What’s funny is that after all my obsessing about where to take my visitors, they seemed to be happiest when sitting out “in the garden.” That’s Brit-speak for a patio. They wallowed in the sun, as I believe it took them two full weeks just to dry out. After a few days they were casually stepping over the pig and throwing the mousetraps back on the couch, so the dogs wouldn’t sit on them. In short, they made themselves at home.

I can hardly wait to say, “Hello English home” again. Hugs across the pond to all my friends in the UK.

America – Daze 2/3/4 July 13, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

All museums have been put on the back burner because I’m too busy showing my guests American culture. British tourists don’t need to come all the way to LA to see yet another painting entitled “Madonna and Child” by an artist whose name is heavy on vowels. Our first stop on our gallery walk was Target.

My husband likes to say that I belong to the church of Target. Well, I took Lesley and her daughter, Lucy, for a look-see and Lesley emerged shouting,”I’m a believer!” She had all her loot stashed in a red reusable Target bag that folds up so you can carry it as an evening clutch. It can also be opened like a large book and Lesley spent the rest of the day wandering about the house holding it like a hymnal and singing, “Amen!”

Our next stop was Venice Beach. We wandered into a lovely shop. The inventory consisted of hookahs, Made in China dream catchers, belly dancing coin belts, crotchless panties, and jewelry. Lesley saw a bracelet in the glass case and shreiked, “Look, that’s so me!”  I just remember it was very pink. Barbie bling. I think it was kept under glass so raccoons couldn’t make off with it.

One look at the man behind the counter and I doublechecked to make sure I still had my wallet. I’ve seen classier barkers at the carny. He took the bracelet out so Lesley could try it on and even attached the “safety clasp.”

But when Lesley asked if he could take it off, he said smiling, “No, I want you to keep it on and give me money for it.” Lesley cooed, “But you need to take it off so I can have a better look at it.”  Now, if this were a folktale, it would have been a toss-up as to who was the trickster, though I was rooting for Lesley.

The bracelet was pricey so the bargaining began. When Lesley asked what sort of metal it was made of, the man assured her it wasn’t metal, it was “silver.” She considered giving him a quick lesson in metallurgy, but decided not to hobble him with knowledge. The price of the bracelet had now fallen from $175 to $100. It was at this point, the salesman told Lesley he was “easy.”  She recoiled in horror. “You don’t go around telling someone you’re easy,” she said. “That’s like saying you’re slutty!”  Taken aback, the man said he hadn’t mean it THAT way, but the damage was done. We kept moving as the Venice boardwalk is heavy on galleries.

Lesley took one more swing by the place on our way back to the car. This time her daughter Lucy went into the shop to check out the bracelet. Lucy had her mum by the shoulders and escorted her out of the shop, saying, “Mummy, that’s the most horrid bracelet I’ve ever seen,” adding, “If you buy that, I’ll never speak to you again!”  Sulking, Lesley was escorted back to the car, blingless.

Thursday we took Lesley and Ian out for breakfast. When the waiter asked Lesley if she’d like toast or a tortilla, she asked, “What’s a tortilla?”  The restaurant was suddenly still. Convinced it was something “like that Indian bread,” she decided to go for it. We explained that the sour cream and salsa, which came in little containers, is put on the eggs and beans. I then introduced them to the friendly Tapatio man’s face. They declared it a fabulous breakfast. We sent them off on the Gold Line to Union Station and Olvera Street, so they could meet more Tapatio men.

They had such a wonderful time downtown, we were able to send them off there again the next day so we could recover from this non-stop cultural marathon. We had to rest up to see Chris Isaak at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night. Our seats were in the nosebleed section, but it was a lovely night to sit out and watch the concert on the big screen TVs, since from where we were sitting, the performers were the size of ants. Lucy dozed off, but awoke for the fireworks finale. Then we shuffled down the mountain with all of the other art lovers, eager to secure a seat on the bus for the trip back to Pasadena.

So today we soldier on.  I’m not sure about the itinerary, but it doesn’t have the word “museum” in it. Eat your heart out J. Paul Getty.

America – Day One July 10, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

I slept in so as not to wake the Brits.  I needn’t have bothered. By the time I wandered out into the kitchen at 8 a.m., Richard and Lesley were already returning from Home Depot with paint for the fence and pastries from the Union Bakery. Lesley was ecstatic. “I just saw my first two fatties!” she exclaimed. She and Richard debated how much the two people they saw weighed altogether, but when translating pounds to stones, they reached an impasse. As a compromise, it was agreed both people were about as big as a boulder.

Lesley dieted before for her trip here, all because she wanted to be able to say, “I want that supersized!” I had to break it to her gently that everything in America IS supersized.

On the way home from the airport the night before, I’d driven Lesley through my town’s historic district. “It looks like Australia,” she proclaimed. I didn’t take this as a compliment and went to great pains to point out the historical significance of the buildings we whizzed by. “Brisbane, Australia,” Lesley reiterated.

Today, Lucy’s all consuming goal was to go to Abercrombie & Fitch and once inside the inner sanctum, she began hyperventilating. She emerged an hour later with one, count it, one shirt. We then took a romp through H&M, The Gap, and another 135 stores. It’s so hard when you’re 15 and you look gorgeous in everything. At each store I got to hear, “I can’t believe how cheap this is!” Since my dollars convert to lowly dollars, I couldn’t make it a shopping menage a trois.

We took a break from all the frenzied spending to have lunch at Twin Palms where Lucy pulled out her new shirt from the Abercrombie & Fitch bag (and no, they’re not paying me for product placement) and buried her face in it. “It even smells like Abercrombie & Fitch,” she squealed. I was looking at the black and white photo of the very manly model on the bag, who evidently embodies the essence of A&F, armpit hair and all. Lucy’s mum, Lesley, suggested that the model had personally licked the new shirt to give it that unique smell. I think Lucy rather liked that idea.

We staggered back to the parking garage, came home and took a nap, which sounds a lot more exotic, if you call it a siesta.

This is what Lesley learned on Day 1:

Most of the streets in LA are quite straight and wide (supersized!)

Everyone in LA seems to drive a silver or black car (I’d noticed that myself recently)

Waiters don’t wait for everyone at the table to finish eating before removing your plate.

Here’s what I learned on Day 1:

A popsicle is actually an “ice lolly”

The school crossing guards who sit in lawn chairs and hold up the STOP sign so children can cross, are referred to in England as “lollipop ladies.”

The reason it’s incredibly rude for a waiter to take away your plate before everyone’s finished eating is because then everyone just stares at the person who’s still eating.

We then went out to Gus’s and ate hamburgers the size of the Isle of Wight and Lesley never even had to utter the “s” word. And the waiter took away my plate as soon as I’d finished, so I could then watch Lesley start packing on American-style pounds.

Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet July 8, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: ,
4 comments

According to my calculations, and I can figure out elapsed time since that’s a third grade standard, my friends are airborne as I write this. Ah yes, 12 hours strapped into an upholstered womb with a snack tray. Being exceptionally open minded, my English friends are flying Air France, so that snack table is actually a table de plateau. The English hate the French just out of habit, but when a French friend can you get you an upgrade on an airline, vive la difference!

It was just last December that my husband, Richard, and I did the 10-hour flight to Heathrow. I watched Love Actually five times so I’d know what to expect. To be honest, I was rather disappointed when Hugh Grant didn’t sprint through the airport to meet me. But I got over it. The last time I’d been to Europe the dollar was worth something, so that will give you an idea of how long it’d been. We flew Air New Zealand, and no, we weren’t served lamb.

Thank god, I don’t remember all the gory details or I’d never travel again. My dear friend Martha bought me a leopard print neck pillow and eye shade so I could travel in style. Or maybe it was tiger. Something jungle themed.

I sat between Richard and a young man from Arcadia, who was the new manager of Abercrombie & Fitch’s first store in London on Savoy Row. We had a lovely conversation and then I dozed off.  When I woke up,  I needed to use the bathroom, but Mr. A&F was sleeping soundly. Rather than wake him, I slid over him with my knees on the armrests, providing him with a virtual lap dance, while praying he wouldn’t open his eyes and scare the bejesus out of me or vice versa. I made it across and back. Whew!

When Richard had to use the restroom, he refused to take the lap dance route, and  nudged Mr. A&F awake. No problem.  Mr A&F stood up then promptly fell backwards in the aisle.  He laid there like a bug on its back. He finally got back up on his feet. “A friend gave me some Xanax,” he said. “Wow, that sh$t really works!”  The second he sat back down, he was out for the count.

Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and middle of the night, I looked up to see a group of passengers and flight attendants assembled outside the restroom doing what looked like a routine from River Dance. Had I missed the aerobics sign-up sheet? I realized they were indulging in this bizarre ritual so as to prevent blood clots. I half expected one of them to do hand springs down the aisle. I pulled my leopard, or maybe it was tiger, eyeshade back down and tried to forget what I’d seen. Just as a precaution, I propped my legs up and assumed a pose only seen before in my OB/GYN’s office.

When we arrived at Heathrow, Lesley and Ian were there to meet us, jumping up and down like we were celebrities walking down the red carpet. It was December, so Lesley got us outside and walking about in the brisk air to keep us awake so we could acclimate to the local time zone. We were out cold by 9 p.m.

But on our trip back to Los Angeles, time stood still. This time our seat mate was a young girl from Liverpool who was making the trip to LA and then flying on to New Zealand. Ah, youth!  I watched two movies and the entire first season of Flight of the Concords, which I’d already seen. It’s so hilarious that I laughed myself silly yet again. I finished reading Madam Bovary for my book club and vowed never to kill myself by ingesting arsenic as it takes way too much time and there’s a lot of retching involved.

Finally, I was so bored that I took to trimming my cuticles by sawing them with the plastic butter knife left over from my two-star meal. Blood loss was minimal and at least it kept me from slitting my own throat. I kept all my fingers bandaged the first week I was back, least someone start rumors that I was a cutter.

But now it’s their turn. I’ve already put chairs out back so my guests can bask in the sun to reset their circadian rhythms. And I’ve hidden all the butter knives – just in case.

Welcome to Armageddon July 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

If I were working for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, I’d have a hard time putting a positive spin on what’s happening in California. It would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

This is supposed to be “sunny” California, not “it feels like I’m living on the sun” California. But that’s what it feels like in my house where we’re boycotting the AC to save mucho dinero. My friends from England arrive Tuesday night, and I reluctantly took a peek at the Los Angeles Times today to check out the weather forecast for the upcoming week. Now, I know that predicting the weather is somewhere between watching the clouds float by and consulting a Magic 8-Ball, but it doesn’t look good. Temperatures are to hover near 100 degrees all week. Farenheit. I make this distinction because my friends from the UK are used to temperatures Celcius style, so they have to do a little math.

My friend Lesley called me today via SKYPE and said they planned to make the scenic drive up the coast to Big Sur and stay in San Francisco their second week here. I conveniently failed to mention that there’s currently a wildfire raging in Big Sur. I wanted to put Arnold on notice, so he can put a lid on it. As far as I’m concerned, he can take money directly from the schools and dump it on the fire. At least then, I’d know where the school funds are going.

Lesley also mentioned the one place her daughter, Lucy, wants to visit is Universal Studios. I’m allergic to all things theme park, but because I’m such a gracious host, I am available to drop them off and pick them up. Now my son, Ian, has informed me that three major attractions burned at Universal Studios last month. The fire evidently started on the “Backdraft” attraction and spread. Who would have thunk it?

What’s next – locusts? I’m not laughing.

A Sorry Safari for Lucy June 29, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Where on earth will Lucy sleep?  Our friends, Lesley and Ian, are coming from England with lovely Lucy, their vivacious 15-year-old daughter.  All Lucy has to do is say, “Mummy!” and I get goosebumps.   We planned to put her parents out in the room next to the garage, but that would leave Lucy couch surfing in the midst of the mayhem that passes for our life.  

Then I had the most brilliant idea.  We’d put Lucy out back in a tent.  No, I’m not talking about a tent like THAT!  More like a room with drapes.  I’ve seen outdoor rooms at Target that would fit the bill.  They’re swathed in mosquito netting with canvas sides that can be artfully tied back.  It’s an oasis, really, at a fraction of the cost.  

I proposed that we move the daybed out into the tent along with a chest of drawers.  Hang a portrait of Queen Victoria and Lucy could pretend she was on safari!  Richard suggested we paint a view of Lake Victoria on the side of the garage.  We even have a pig who can pass as a warthog. What luck!  And for a pittance, I’m sure my neighbors, Mark and Eunice,  would don tribal make-up to recreate that bush-like ambiance.

The wonderful thing about Southern California is there are no insects.  Oh, that’s Hawaii.  Okay, there are no insects that a sturdy fly swatter and a hammer can’t take out.  We could set the legs of the daybed in coffee cans filled with kerosene to discourage bugs or reptilian bedmates.  I know that works cause I’ve seen it in movies.

I emailed Lesley to see if she’d warm up to my inspired idea.  Her only suggestion was that we add a picture of Russell Crowe alongside the Queen’s.  I took that as an enthusiastic yes.

Unfortunately, like all visionaries, I’m subject to the stinging barbs of criticism from the commoners aka my family.  Alas, Lucy’s safari was nixed. Lesley and Ian will stay in our bedroom so Lucy can sleep – dare I say it? – on the couch in the den.  Doesn’t sound nearly as exotic, but at least she won’t have to fend off wildlife. And Lucy will also have access to a computer and a TV.  No “EastEnders” though, and that could be the biggest hardship of all.

Bienvenidos al Los Angeles June 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Travel.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

The British are coming! The British are coming! One by land, two by sea. Okay, make that three by air. My friend, Lesley, and her family are flying in from the UK on July 8th. This is their first visit to the states, or the colonies as I refer to them, and they’re eager to see Los Angeles.

There are so many things to see and do in LA that I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Future diplomatic relations between the UK and its petulant offspring, the US, could hinge on my choices. I don’t want to muck this up like George W. And the timing couldn’t be better, what with the price of a gallon of gas fast approaching that of a vial of Botox. Of course, for each kilometer they fly west, their wallets grow fatter. So America beckons like one giant factory outlet.

I met Lesley on the internet late last summer. After a flurry of emails, and several conversations via SKYPE, she invited my husband, Richard, and I to come to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Crazy? Absolutely! But we had such a fabulous time now they want to see how how those wacky Americans live.

Yes, there’s lots of history in Pasadena, but really! As Eddie Izzard said, “I come from Europe – you know, where history is from.” When we were in England we toured the local castle, where Mary Tudor aka Bloody Mary (not to be confused with the urban Bloody Mary who haunts the bathrooms of elementary schools) mustered her supporters in 1553, before being crowned Queen. We walked the streets of Framlingham, their incredibly quaint 17th century village and toured the local church,  which traces its origins to the 12th century. No  I won’t be playing the history card.

When we were in the UK, we trapsed through castles, and along the cobblestoned streets of Cambridge.  We queued up for fish and chips in Aldeburgh on the North Sea. But what do I remember most? The people! For one thing, I’d never seen so many people who looked vaguely like me or so many redheads, including Lesley. But mostly, I remember how lovely the people were. Once we’d mentioned that we thought George W. was the village idiot, people embraced us like the long lost relatives that we probably are.

It helped that Lesley is the town librarian in a town of 2600 people. The library is located in a 300-year-old building that’s a gathering spot for local folk. Think of it as Starbucks, only the books are free. No espresso, but there was a pot of coffee brewing. So much for the stereotypical, “Would you like a cuppa…?” People popped in to pick up DVDs they ordered or for just the chance to chat up Lesley and her co-workers, Sally and Crawford.  It was a delight just to walk about the town with Lesley, who knew everyone!

So what should I show my friends? It’s made me think about what it is I find so unique about this place called Los Angeles, the most multicultural city in America. The place I call home.

I definitely want Lesley and her family to meet our friends and neighbors, a diverse lot indeed. While they’re here, my neighbors, Chuck and Chris, are having a block party to celebrate Chuck’s 50th birthday. They’re also celebrating 10 years of being partners and their house’s 100th year. I’ll count that as history in the making.

And then there’s the food. In Framlingham, we ordered out from the “curry house” one night for fabulous Indian food prepared by the local Pakistanis. Since Fram is an hour east of London, that’s about as diverse as it gets. I recently sent Lesley an email detailing some of the food options. Mexican food and margaritas, Cuban food at The Cuban Bistro in Alhambra, Spanish tapas at La Luna Negra, Thai food from Saladang, sushi, Chinese dim sum, and kick-ass bar-b-q from the new Gus’s in South Pasadena, and a late night stop at In-N-Out Burger. Maybe we’ll get lucky and my next door neighbor, Stella, will whip up one of her Greek specialties which she loves to share.

If my house guests get homesick, we can always take them out for Indian food. But at our local Indian restaurant, the cook is Latino. Only in America.

I couldn’t believe it when Lesley told me she’d never heard of Target. And I thought England had come out of the Dark Ages centuries ago! After a visit to Target, I’ll take her for a look-see at Costco. I don’t think she believed me when I told her you can only purchase soy sauce in a gallon-sized gasoline can.

Then there are the artichokes and the avocados to be enjoyed on the patio with pitchers of sangria. Trader Joe’s alone is worth a trip across the pond. Oh, and I can’t forget the parrots!  We live in their fly-over zone. Not only are they loud and colorful, they too are immigrants, which makes them the consummate Americans. Of course, we’ll have to spend a day at the beach and wallow in the craziness that is Venice.

Come to think of it, I know now exactly what I’m going to show them. I’m going to show them what the New World looks like.  It’s called Los Angeles.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 339 other followers