Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years on

I've already written about Where was I when Kennedy died, made a neat blog: I was in Belgrade. People crying in the streets, concerts cancelled, solemn music on TV. Later, reading of international reporters shocked at the jubilation of many of Dallas' society.
Now, fifty years on, Florida, USA during the Obama administration. Reflections on that day? A kind of comfort to remember hostility and gut hatred need have nothing to do with race.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Albania, Texas, You decide.

First Albania, then off to Texas(Dr.Motes speaking at Houston and Austin) so let's compare! OK but it's fun.
 A tie. Hard to find a souvenir without Albania's flag stamped on it. My favorite, a fridge magnet:
Superman pulling open his cloak to reveal the double headed eagle! The lone star? Everywhere. Saw it discreetly inside a crucifix and living large on the side of an outhouse.
Being Special.
Texas because it sees itself so big, Albania because it knows it's so small even the Yugoslav Communist Party was a threat. So it allied itself with China. (Too far away to invade!)
Texas always takes on the world too. In Galveston," The free world's only remaining genuine government surplus store."
Well...Albania's Communist leader abolished religion in the mid sixties. Maybe that's why there are not so many churches around though quite a few mosques. Ironic, as Albanians are famous for their religious tolerance. Texans must be too: they have so much to digest: Holy Zion Lutheran,
Church of the Hills, Island in the Sun Church, Straight Gate Church, Cowboy Church, Encouragement Church. Crosses on store fronts, a large one outside someone's bedroom window.
 OK Trees, Weather and Fruit
Tall, elegant chestnut trees in the center of Tirana. Live oaks in Texas, such a presence in towns
 and out. Weather? Killer hot in Texas, Adriatic mellow in Albania. Fruit? Peaches everywhere in Texas but picked hard and thrown in a cooler. "Cherries are over" we were told in Albania probably because we got there in July and the Albanian name for June is "Cherry month."
Off the Beaten Track
Like Albania, we took the less beaten tracks. Row of women in a line, haymaking. Folk herding sheep. Up through Texas hill country, tally of road kill: two raccoons, armadillo, young deer, one
turkey buzzard, two wild hogs. Tiny places, small names. Made me think of those old war movies:
"Where you from, son?" "Brady, Texas, sir." "Mason, Texas, sir."
Selling Books
Success! The elegant book shop in the center of Tirana now has twenty four copies of Kosova Kosovo, while a book club in Houston has just acquired twenty copies of Orchid Territory and together with Austin, (Heart of Texas Orchid Society) I sold another fifteen.  And now I have another selling point for Kosova : "It's cheaper here than in Albania!"

  • I sold about another fifteen.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is this a Tweet?

Much more on Albania but Motes Orchids caravan off to Texas today.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

No Albanian Required

Albania was the best place to be to avoid the Trayvon Martin trial. Small hotels, no CNN, BBC. Best place to be American, too. Amerike! Broad smile, hand on heart. Albanians are grateful. America has always had a soft spot for them, the underdogs of the Balkans. It was an American president who fought for Albania to even exist in the World War One days and after, and it was Clinton who bombed the Serbs to stop ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo in the nineties. But still.
Albania, full of Moslems who helped prop up the old Turkish empire, then after the Second World  War , Communist Albania, the North Korea  of Europe.

Well, here to report not as gnarled old Balkan hand (see random blogs) but as aging tourist with comfort in mind: sunny days, friendly but not intrusive people, always someone who speaks some English. (Always someone on hand with an uncle in New York, a sister in Boston, a daughter in Paris.) No soldiers visible, few police,  only  a couple of traffic  cops occasionally looking for action. Cosy cheap hotels and good home cooking ( local food, wine etc.)

Warning for those who are young, female and reasonably attractive: unemployment is high. Everywhere there are restless young men with nothing to do but sit in cafes.
Warning for those of us who are so good about seat belts. On those scenic trips with incredible views, listen to the lovely Albanian music on the mini bus and decide that with God and Allah you are in good hands.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lost in the clouds

The big old computer died in March and so did my blogs. I have been on a slip and slide adventure with my new IPad (birthday present unused for nearly a year) and finally seem to be able to not eliminate what I've just done. One fun feature: watching the IPad throwing suggestions at me as to what my  skit skattering typing really intends to. Say.  OK I had so many ideas for blogs: NRA and the cowboy film. Jobs I could Do (Dollar Tree stores cashier - all a dollar My kind of math) BUT we are off to Albania next week! Had the big Motes Orchids Clearance Sale and stuffing dollars into our holiday pants, that,s it!
When we were teaching in Kosovo we coudln't  go. (Politics) I am busy trying to remember my Albanian. If I were a twitterer most every tweet would probably be " Can't remember the word for sheet! " Etc. 

 I will take a trusty note book and write down impressions in the good old fashioned way that served   Shakespeare, Mark Twain etc. well enough. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The glasses that ping

We're always on the hunt for a good red wine under six dollars but whatever the price we always drink it from glasses that ping. A few years back you could find them in Mcfrugals, of blessed memory. Just lined up on the shelf, dozens of crystal wine glasses, each a dollar forty-nine. Obviously no one in charge had done the ping test. For that all you need is a ring, (wedding rings work best, plain metal.) Make a fist: bend your knuckles as though you'll punch the glass and lightly tap the wedding ring upon the side. No ping? Pass on and repeat.

Sadly someone at McFrugals caught on and a few weeks later the only glasses available at one forty-nine gave off the dead clunk of broken dreams and lowered expectations. Speaking of the dead clunk, does no-one remember one of the historic episodes in Frasier? Miles, ultra posh, fastidious brother, finally declares his passion for Daphne, and they sit in the kitchen and raise their glasses in a toast and what do we hear? A dead, low class, no-class clunk. Un-believable. The producers were lucky they got away with it when they did. If it happened now the whole scene would be making the rounds eternally with Angry Cat and Face Lifts Gone Wrong.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not so special after all

Because I'm British, well English- that even more Anglo-Saxon super-section of former white imperial overlords - (and with bad teeth, according to the more recent American overlords who sneer at us because they're still jealous,) OK - well, because I am English with all those centuries-old certainties, it's always a shock when I find myself sinking to the level of  the smaller peoples of the world.

For example: French troops in Mali - and suddenly on the TV there are Africans speaking perfect French - ordinary ones! (Ordinary Africans.) Where did that come from? (Of course, when you don't speak any French, any French sounds perfect.)  It's quite a smack to be reminded, of course, the French were in Africa too. And how odd that some Africans speak Portuguese- It  doesn't seem quite right. I never heard about any of that growing up. For a moment I feel as aggrieved as a Serb squaring up to the Greeks who lord it over the Balkans with all their statues and temples and stuff. Or an Albanian student unable to sit still in class because he had just seen the portrait of an Albanian poet  hung lower than the picture of a Serbian one.

It t was in a Serbian grocery in fact, long ago, the moment when it  hit me how much like everybody else we are. It was back before plastic bags when everything was still wrapped in newspaper or whatever came to hand. This time it was a page from an elementary school exercise book: careful sentences in Serbian, the top one, "President Tito VISITS Africa." (It was obviously verbs that day) Back then Tito gazed at us from every post office wall, shop, restaurant, bus station, and flyblown cafe but I was suddenly reminded of my young school days, and "Princess Elizabeth visits Canada!" And what did we young school children have to do? Make a scrap book from the pictures in the newspaper! Princess at the rodeo, doing a square dance! Cheered by jubilant Canadians! That was our geography lesson.

And another thing: just the other day I heard some correspondent talking about the Americans repairing a bridge the Russians had built in Afghanistan. And he casually mentioned all the roads, the hospitals and clinics for women  they had built too. Ah, but of course, they would have had a picture of Lenin or Stalin staring down on those poor Afghanis - not a smiling Queen Elizabeth or a pensive Obama.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Running Water:Turn off that tap!

Speaking of gadgets that help women, what about running water? Back in the sixties when I lived in  Kosovo, southern Yugoslavia, almost every new flat had its washing machine but down among the old wooden houses there was still just a tap out in the yard. But wait! What luxury! As one of my colleagues at the university explained, "The women are very happy now- before they had to get water out in the street."

Kosovo was just another distant province of the old Turkish Empire until the First World War and in terms of plumbing, and much else, had not changed a lot. Everyone, Communist party members, students, welcomed me to the capital with the same apology: "Pristina is a dirty town!"  Their reasoning, from the Turkish time, the world before modern plumbing: "We are in the plain- no river!" The two beautiful old towns in Kosovo, Pec and P:rizren, they explained, were "clean"- built on the banks of fast flowing mountain rivers- running water!

The fact that I also get a kick out of turning on a tap and seeing water come out - and hot water too!- dates from before Kosovo, to student days when I persuaded a wary housewife to let me turn her attic into 'digs.' The only problem, having to go down two flights to the bathroom for water. And later when I snagged a  top flat in London, (right near the Thames and the Tate Gallery!) same problem- two flights down for water.
Unfortunately, unlike the gorgeous women who sway off to wells with pots on their heads, going for water  did nothing for my posture. Hauling up plastic buckets on narrow stairs was more Hunchback of Notre Dame. But, children, it does explain why I regularly squawk (sometimes, just to myself,) "Don't waste water! Turn off that tap!"

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Washing Machine

As the man said: the secret of happiness is a pleasing monotony. As for a woman a washing machine runs it close, though maybe you need to be of a certain vintage for that to apply. Or, right now, to be a mother bombed out of Aleppo, in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. (Syria, children!) Digression: The girls at the cash registers in Publix keep asking me for a dollar here, a dollar there for cancer, for children, for diabetes, and I demand "What about SYRIA?" reinforcing the impression that the world, especially the supermarket world, is full of addled old ladies.
Digression  2- Speaking of addled old ladies and the Middle East:  we had a power outrage one evening  back when Iraq was the daily news story and Florida Power and Light got us back on line, in the dark! And a nice gentleman called about nine checking all was OK. Such courteous American efficiency! And I said  "Thankyou! Makes you think about the poor people in Baghdad, doesn't it?"  Pause. OK, Apparently not.

Yes, washing machines. I am a lot older than many Mums and I certainly grew up in the UK long before the world speeded up so much that they were showing the same new movie at the Odeon, Friar Street, Reading Berks as in New York, the same week! But when I listed what we didn't have as children, not even starting on high tech - no fridge, no car, no telephone, no TV, no washing machine, no dryer, my children looked at me like -"We're you living in a cave, eating grass?"
No fridge? Well, that was long before global warming and we weren't in Florida but on hot summer days my mother put our bottle of milk in a basin of cold water (no ice) with a cloth over it. And when it turned sour we all had pancakes! So not all bad.
OK, one last thing. I think the washing machine has been more important for some women than the Pill. Because if you had a washing machine, you wouldn't mind having more kids.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Twil be, 'Tis and 'Twas: two months in the life of a blog

Back in November this started as "'Twil be..the season.."  A blog in praise of Christmas as the one time a year when there's a solid public for plastic snowmen, cardboard Santas and books.
Selling a book is hard. People back away. ("Oh, I don't read...Don't have time...") But at Christmas people know they don't have to actually READ a book but just BUY the damn thing. The whole job of actual reading is handed off to someone else - i.e.give Orchid Territory as a  PRESENT. Because outside of Christmas and birthdays, in this brave new world, there are not so many opportunities anymore.

Easter? Well, you could have the Easter Bunny hide a copy or two. There will be some disappointment among the young 'uns but a book's a lot healthier than a chocolate egg so parents and Michelle Obama will be happy. Halloween? Probably not. Teenagers baffled and enraged by offerings of  Orchid Territory rather then Hershey bars, might be liable to do some damage to the front lawn.

Which brings us back to Christmas and by the way, an extra persuasive argument for orchidists: unlike a present of a flowering orchid, Orchid Territory can be bought early on and hidden in your closet! Also it's cheap! Special 10.00 dollars American! Try getting a Present-To-Remember for THAT. (And inside Obama's nanny-Fascist state books and crates of vegetables are the only acceptable Christmas presents anyway, no chocs or alcohol!)

Speaking of which, an added bonus. If you still read books, then you can enjoy Orchid Territory and still give it away. This cannot be done with chocs or drink.You cannot eat the chocs, rearrange the little silver and gold papers and hand over the box. You can't drink the wine and then wrap up the bottle. It's been quite a few decades since a light bulb stuck in an empty Chianti bottle was the smartest lamp around.                                                  
But if you're a careful reader: ( no coffee stains, white wine and greasy popcorn traces) then no one need ever know their Orchid Territory was pre-owned and pre-read.

Back in November I convinced myself a little too well that people no longer read blogs either, or at least mine, so- why bother? So this is why this blog is definitely  'Twas... and that's not the night before Christmas, either.