I’m back from bella Italia where part of May and early June were spent in heaven on earth in Tuscany. I had made arrangements months earlier, and we painters all met in the Pisa airport as easily as if we’d met at the corner bus stop. For the first week, Hertz provided a bulky silver box on wheels, a high seated Ford Transit that held 9, or 6 with baggage and easels. I negotiated tight spaces with centimeters to spare, shifting 5 on the floor with scarcely a grind; the gasolio (diesel) delivered great mileage. (Don’t call us shiftless!)
On return, I discovered out best family news is the fact that our oldest son Ted is still alive, after an airplane hijack in Ethiopia. As I write, there is no news of why two young men were armed or why, and they’re too dead to tell tales. Ted’s been working with CDC in Addis Ababa from Atlanta, in a place where over 30% of women are HIV positive and are passing disease to their babies for lack of medicines. The male populace is less infected, underscoring again how much easier women contract the disease. No kids have shoes, beggars abound, there are no paved roads, and Ted’s Addis Ababa hotel costs nightly more than a worker’s annual average wages. After the hijack, Mike called Ted from Vienna on the hotel phone, since his cell phone wouldn’t work: the short call cost $15 a minute, nearly $200. The Ethiopian government holds the phone monopoly. (I never forget the fact that as of today, half the world will never be able to make a telephone call.) A man ran up the aisle with a knife and a grenade, dashing into the pilot’s cabin. Then another stood and shouted. A third man leapt up and shot the second man, then ran up and stood by the pilots’ door until the first hijacker stuck his head out to see what was happening, and was shot in the head. No one knew that the grenade was a fake. No one knew that the third man was an air marshall.
One passenger was 12, who with her 8 year old sister was brought to see the land of her ancestors. The cockpit hijacker fell onto her when he was shot and pistol whipped so that he’d drop sooner. She and her mother, who sat beside Ted, were hysterical, but Ted didn’t realize at first they were related. The man behind Ted was throwing up. Ted didn’t know if the marshal was a regular passenger or a terrorist, and had thrown down his food tray, unhooked his seat belt and stood when the first guy was shot. (He didn’t realize it at the time; someone told him later.) The first bullet landed in the thigh of one of the stewards after killing the hijacker. Since Ted carries a first aid kit from CDC, he had bandages in the overhead. All commands were in the native language, as were prayers and exclamations. It’s a Christian country by law. The air marshals are trained by the US, incidentally, travel on all flights, and did so before Sept. 11. Both hijackers lay where they fell, eyes staring, ‘til the flight landed far from the terminal and was surrounded by armed soldiers. Passengers were strip searched to ensure there were no other troublemakers, then debriefed before departure. The bag checkers may have been busy watching the World Cup.
When I spoke with Ted after the hijacking, I remarked that I’d initially been more worried about the TB rates than being killed, and was told not to abandon that thought. The city, at over 8000’, is the third highest national capitol in the world, and this is the rainy season. Everyone coughs, and TB rates are as steep as the mountainous topography. (My sister Peggy noted that she thought all she’d have to worry about was Ebola and HIV!) Ted is sporting a beard that he guesses his wife Robin will let him keep for about 30 minutes once he returns home.
This is World Cup time, and worldwide, kids are skipping school, workplaces have TV screens in every room, and productivity is minimal. Employers lose billions every four years. The Ethiopian kids, learning Ted was American, murmured, “Ah, Ameh-dee-ca, good team, good team!” after the US beat Portugal. (Then they asked for pens or money.) The Irish are beside themselves with their start, and Moscow reacted over a loss by taking lessons from Detroit and burning down their town. Horns blasted and samba lines curled through London after Brazil’s final triumph, but the letdown here will be gradual, with Wimbledon to distract us.
We met an American doctor at a friend’s for dinner; he’s a great chef! He lives around the corner from an auction house and had just complemented his red lacquered Chinese dragons with a French wooden bombe bar, for $10. Very showy!
The doc was from Buffalo NY originally, and her hubby is a PhD in economics from Nebraska who became involved with Rotary, their sponsor. They were sent from Bangladesh, land of the Bengali speakers, because of the India-Pakistan war. They have children in the states. She works up a remote river on a barge, taught her staff to take blood pressures and do physicals, which was a novelty there, and has raised millions to increase the non-existent supplies and training she encountered. No patients had ever seen lights to look inside ears. She became “the American who touches” which goes against Moslem traditions. Even men come to see her, in the daily queues of 60 or 70 patients. (Mike immediately figured out how many minutes each that might be in a ten hour day.) Her husband goes around teaching, working on problems in economics, and helps her. Most travel is done on the rivers, since roads are primitive, but then, there are the floods….
I attended an interesting party at the Chelsea Physic Garden, a breast cancer benefit. The champagne was adequate to float the Queen Mary, and I did my best to deplete it. Long gardens are filled with plants with medicinal use, including poisons, arranged in manicured rows in the lawns, with glass houses behind one area. In 1673 the Society of Apothecaries founded this garden on 3.5 acres; Physic is the old name for healing arts. There’s the oldest rock garden in Europe from 1773—when the garden was already a century old. It’s next to theexcellent National Army Museum..
Imagine smartly dress folks and flutes, white jacketed waiters milling about with bottles of champagne, and pretty waitresses with trays. I worried that I might need to wear a fancy chapeau. Heavens no! I was told. It was evening, when one goes bareheaded. Fortunately. It had rained on and off, and I wore boots with my trouser suit (can’t say pants suit here: pants are knickers!) Lady Betty Boothroyd was the guest of honor and looked great and also tan, so she must’ve been traveling or owned a sunlamp. (“White” people seem actually a pale blue in their natural state.) I brazenly helped my friend Stella sample hors d’oeuvres as a duty, since her daughter’s wedding is nigh. Yum! Chunks of hot foods with bowls for dips or tiny embellished crumpets were brought out on imaginative trays decorated with long stem flowers. The rain abated until the end of the auction (trips, painting, dinners) by a Sotheby’s volunteer whose gavel and patter entertained the white marquee.
Many months ago I sent for tickets to the Trooping of the Colors, and this year watched under leaden skies as the Queen’s Household performed on horseback and foot. I was happy to have a light scarf (as opposed to my winter’s wool, a fixture) as frosty winds tore down the neck of my leather jacket. It’s nearly my uniform: I’d love to wear something lighter! It’s been a frigid June; I think I’ve left the house once in short sleeves and no sweater. Horses and bandsmen performed intricate countermarches and formations. Plumed golden helmets, bearskin hats, dangling bugles, and stunning embroidered tapestries added to the show. The horses’ tails were combed and trimmed evenly, and the scarlet jackets or plaid pipers’ cloaks must’ve been comfortable and warm. I recalled UT band halftime and wondered how the ‘Horns might receive a mounted contingent between football halves.
Mike was in Vienna and Rich’s Noelle was in Paris, so Rich and I went together. To enter the grounds, we passed through handbag searches and metal detectors. A helicopter hovered overhead. When I got home, the evening news showed the reviewing stand gent accompanying an African potentate in white tribal robes was Tony Blair. He’s quite furious with the press these days, since there’s been a lot of sniping.
We walked home from Horseguards beneath vertical white Jubilee banners with red and blue stripes decking the tall posts. Many shop windows are decorated, with pictures of the queen, or crowns, or red, white and blue bunting. Club and organization flags flew from many buildings. Because of England’s success in the World Cup, there are also hundreds of small white flags of England, with the red cross of St. George, atop car antennas and buildings. There is great smugness that France “are” vanquished, dismissed in disgrace, and Argentina as well. Lordly champions have withered to dust. (If Mick Jagger got named a knight after all his shenanegans, David Beckham could run for king.)
We walked past exquisite men’s shops toward trendy Bond St. and stopped at the Royal Academy summer show, closed for a private opening. A crowd milled outside Sotheby’s, in pricey clothes like those we’d just admired in nearby Ferragamo or Prada windows. There was music, and smokers puffing away while waving wine glasses. A white gloved gent held the door of the cab he’d flagged for some ladies. A few feet away, Rolls Royces and Bentleys had chauffeurs leaning against the boots. I felt quite unconnected and continued walking home.
I never got my invitation to Paul McCartney’s wedding to Heather Mills, either. The mail service is losing people and closing offices, and has changed its despised new name, Consignia, which cost two million dollars to develop, back to Royal Mail. We will start having only one delivery a day rather than two. Once Charles Dickens could write a note in the morning, read the reply, and answer his correspondent by teatime.
I went back to bella Italia with Mike for a Navy meeting in La Spezia, and we stayed in Leirici, a nearby medieval town overlooking the sea. The Bay of Poets, where Percy Bysse Shelly drowned in 1822, is guarded by an ancient castle at each side. Lord Byron took Shelley’s heart back for English burial after his body was cremated on the shore. We met friends for seafood one night, and found a bar hung with Navy plaques, run by a former Italian sailor. (Have you read Blind Man’s Bluff? It’s about secret stuff in submarines, and Mike and our friends are in it, but not by name.)
Mike flew on BA from Gatwick in business class, since he’s often upgraded, and I schlepped to Stanstead Airport with Ryan air, for a fraction of the price and twice the aggravation. My no-refund tickets were nearly cheap enough to make it worthwhile. Even cokes are a pound aloft; seating is a melee, with no timed boarding. The early bird gets no middle seat.
We went to Westminster Abbey Sunday with more visitors, sat in ancient carved quire seats, and marveled at the polyphonic men and boys’ choir each time they soared into a magnificent Hosanna or Gloria. Some boys looked about 6, and as sweet as angels. That night after fish and chips at the Victoria Pub, we joined the singing at the Duke of Kendal, which was noisier and later than usual because of two young groups of South Africans and Aussies, ready to party. Their chorus line for New York, New York in the cozy crowded bar was enthusiastic. Even the outdoor drinkers abandoned their pavement picnic tables to come in for a look.
I held painting classes at my dining room table. We had a Navy change of command ceremony, but the new Captain Campbell and his family, in from Indonesia, will live in the suburbs, not in central London. Although he’s a medical researcher, he also swam the channel! 23 miles to France, if the passing boats miss you as you plash past. Formal acceptanceof duties and responsibilities for one's unit often come with with speeches, bands and troops is once Navies worldwide.
Currencies are changing because of falling markets—thanks, Enron and Anderson! – and now the euro is worth nearly a dollar. The pound is over a dollar and a half. Every time that happens, our paycheck is effectively reduced because everything costs more here.
Our daughter Ellen’s call center in Maryland was ranked by the Washington Business Journal as greater Washington’s 18th fastest growing company. She was the only woman in the top 25, and one of 2 in the top 50. She and Scott were renominated Ernst and Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. We’re proud of them!
Our youngest, Pat, bought his first house this month, in East Austin, and is selling his Stingers band tour van. He’ll buy another van, however, even bigger. His “real” car is a 1972 Buick Skylark convertible useable to “go larking.” You’d have to see it, which is pretty easy, since it’s like a boat, faded red iron wider than a soccer net. The Stingers are on summer break, but you can still hire Incredible Vernacular, Pat’s other band.
Ted came through to spend a night en route home from Addis Ababa, with a stop in Alexandria, after nine hours of riding. He brought gifts, photos, and stories, and reports HIV is already decimating the police, teachers, army, and all the infrastructure of Africa. All the progress of past decades is eroding. It is a preventable disease! Condoms and clean needles plus education are required. For the first time, DeBeers is donating drugs to its workers to combat HIV rather than retrain new diamond workers because it’s cheaper. How do you run a company if a large part of your staff will be dead in ten years? I hadn’t realized that Ethiopians consider themselves black Europeans, not Africans. We rode bikes in the park, toasted Ted with champagne for staying alive, and went “down th’ pub.” June played a few Rosemary Clooney songs, since the singer just died.
Next month I’ll be in Budapest and Charleston. Happy summer, dollings. Ta.
My watercolor of a home far from London. Most Europeans live in spaces smaller than in the US.
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