Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympics Day 2

I promise to post pictures as soon as I can figure out how to upload them to my friend's computer (no wifi in the house so I can't use mine to post).

London is in full Olympic spirit. People wearing shorts, hats, T shirts, backpacks with the Union Jack on them chat with others on the Tube. So far the transport has worked smoothly with no trains being too horribly crowded. The London police and games volunteers are lovely and friendly and there is a general feeling of goodwill.

I'm wearing my Team USA jacket which gets comments. I tell them that I have dual nationality which is great. If the US wins then I'm American and if the Brits win, I'm British!

Went to our first event, badminton. I have never really watched badminton but it was one of the only tickets we actually got. However it was great fun and we had seats close to one of the courts so I could really see expressions on the athletes faces. It's very fast and a badminton smash apparently goes at over 200 miles per hour. And those tiny Asian girls could whack it impressively.

My newly operational legs are protesting at walking up and down 48 stairs in the house as well as steps up and down to every tube station. I'm so grateful that I recovered enough to be able to do this and feel terrible for handicapped people in London. How do they get around?

Apart from seeing friends I'm in an orgy of TV watching. About 4 or 5 channels have all the sports on them so I'm flicking between rowing/archery/equestrian/beach volleyball. Of course when swimming comes on the channel doesn't change.
I am a little distressed about the expectations the TV commentators put on the athletes. They talk as if gold is a certainty when really their past performance shows that it's a long shot. Then when they only get bronze they make it sound like a failure.
As someone said on my Facebook page--they should try competing against the best in the world knowing that billions are watching them!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting into the Olympic Spirit

I'm in London and it's hot. Very hot. Underground train muggy. We went across the city today with half empty suitcases and will take a second load tomorrow. This is because almost every Underground station has zillions of steps. Having been in a wheelchair and then incompacitated I feel so sorry for handicapped people in London. Definitely unfriendly. Only 6 stations out of the whole Central Line have elevantors and are wheelchair accessible.

Our home away from home a little strange--an old Victorian in what would have been a dubious part of town until recently. More stairs--kitchen in basement, living room up one flight, bedroom up another flight and there's one more floor above that. I'll be super fit by the time we leave!

We arrived back in Oxford Street in time to catch the torch relay. And saw the London police in action--what a difference from the US! Young bobbies smiling, joking with the crowd. "Step back a bit, please. You'll get all the pictures you want, I promise. And you can start by taking mine!"  No threats, no barked commands and good atmosphere all around. Then the torch went past (I can't tell you who was carrying it but it was on a double decker bus).

So it's my first taste of Olympic spirit and tomorrow I'll be settled in at our borrowed home to enjoy the Games.

Who is going to be watching the opening ceremony?

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Love Paris

News to report on Paris: the Parisians, like the New Yorkers, have become friendly, polite and altogether nice. Our hotel staff couldn't be more pleasant. The Metro is staffed with young information assistants who are students doing internships. The one who walked with us to the right Metro platform was at the same university as Sarcozy (but he failed the course, we were told)

We spent yesterday playing tourist--up to Montmartre, a cruise along the Seine, dinner on the Left Bank. And Paris is still one of the world's most beautiful cities. Ordinary buildings that would be purely functional in other cities are elegant, with pretty balconies, interesting rooftops. And no sky scrapers in the city center so that Notre Dame , Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower dominate the skyline. The tower lit up at night is spectacular.

And on a personal front yesterday was the day of steps--up to Sacre Coeur, down to metro stations, up from the Seine. And my legs held up--only just, I confess by the end of the evening, but that's a miracle in itself. I brought a collapsible cane with me but I'm not going to need it.

Today I'm wallowing in Monet. The Musee D'Orsay in the morning and a trip out to Monet's house at Giverny in the afternoon. So exited!

I survive the Tour de France

In Paris. Fabulous weather.We headed first to the Place de Vosges in honor of my friend Cara Black and her first book Murder in the Marais. It really is one of the loveliest squares in Europe!

Then we walked around the Isle de la Cite but declined to stand in line for hours to get into Notre Dame. I can remember the days when one just strolled into churches and sat in silence taking in the atmosphere. Not any more. Then we went to the Place de la Concorde to watch the finish of the Tour de France. John took one look at the crowd and fled to the hotel to watch it on TV. I decided this was a once in a lifetime experience so I stood and stood. For two hours actually! Since I have only just begun to walk again this was an obvious sign of insanity. But I wasn't going to miss the chance of experiencing this. And they went right by me--in a flash. You have no idea how fast they go. It was like watching a speeding blur. But I did see Bradley Wiggins clearly in hi yellow jersey. Rule Britannia! I tried to take pictures but my pictures are just a blur of color.

And at night we walked down the Champs Elysees and ate moules et frites in a busy seafood restaurant.
It's a tough life! More tomorrow.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reporting in from Paris

Interesting first day in London. Went to see the friend's house where we'll be staying close to the Olympic park. We got the one taxi driver in London who doesn't speak English and didn't know where he was going. And a volatile Somali to boot. We had to yell that he'd gone too far in the wrong direction. he screeched across traffic and stopped to program his TomTom. Since every London taxi driver has to pass The Knowledge, a very stiff test, we suspect he was borrowing a mate's cab. We should have taken the number and reported him.

Anyway, house is fine, relaxing and leafy garden behind it, easy walk to transport. Had a lovely Thai dinner with my friend, then collapsed from exhaustion.
Today we've flown to Paris for a few days and it's wonderful:
I can see the Arc de Triomphe from my hotel window (not Russia like a certain person claimed) and it's on a leafy boulevard. Nice room, pleasant girl at reception and the sun is shining. All it needs now is a good dinner and I shall be contente!

I'll take pictures tomorrow, especially when the Tour de France comes past us! I must remember not to fall out of the window as I cheer on Bradley Wiggins--first Brit to win the Tde F!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

God bless American (Airlines that is)

I never thought I'd write a blog in praise of airlines these days, but I can't say enough good things about American Airlines last night. I used miiles to upgrade to business class and the service and food was wonderful. We chatted with the cabin crew. But we were delayed leaving San Francisco because of storms on the East Coast (and I see from friends'  posts that they had hail in NYC). When we were put in a holding pattern over Kennedy we really felt that we were not going to make our connection. It was definitely the last flight out for the night at 11 p.m. so we were wondering what on earth would happen to us. A night in the airport--not so attractive.

Anyway we finally landed at 10.45. We reached out gate at 10.50. Then one of the cabin crew, a lovely English woman called Kathy, ran ahead to the other gate to let them know we were coming and to keep the door open for us. Another flight attendant ran beside us, directing us down one concourse, down an escalator, under a runway, up and escalator and along another concourse. From gate 40 to gate 3.
We heard the time announced as eleven while we were still on a travelator and pretty much gave up. But then there was an American gate agent beckoning us. "Come on. You can make it," she called, and we did.
What's more our bags made it too and were first off the flight this morning.

And American business class from JFK to Heathrow--fabulous. Seats that fully reclined into beds, comforters, soft pillows, little bags of goodies like hand cream and such pleasant people. I don't know if the bankruptsy has made them more aware of customer service but every single one of the American people we encountered was outstanding.

And an interesting side note:Heathrow was empty. We got through immigration and customs in 10 minutes.
What if they gave an Olympics and nobody came?

Off for some sleep.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Longing for the Good Old Days

I'm dashing around getting ready to leave for England tomorrow and I find myself longing for the good old days. And I don't just mean the days when flying was fun, airport workers were courteous, friends strolled right up to the plane to bid farewell, and they actually fed you real food.

I'm thinking more of the speed of our lives. Of the need for instant communication. Of all those people who whip out their cell phones as the wheels touch the tarmac and shout, "We just arrived."
When a member of my family went to Australia in the early 1900s the family didn't hear for six months that she had arrived safely. Actually when I went across Europe alone for the first time at the age of 12 I wrote my parents a letter to say I had arrived. Telephoning would have been unthinkable--expensive and the long distance lines were one big crackle.

I've been reminded this morning of all the annoyances and inconveniences that this age brings with it. I find on my computer two lots of contracts I have to sign and return. While I love getting contracts it's one more thing to do today. And I'm having major Facebook troubles: someone I didn't know tried to friend me on my personal friends page. This page is now reserved for a few personal friends. All my activity is on my author page. (Rhys Bowen, author) So I sent him a message telling him this--and got blocked with a warning by Facebook for trying to friend someone I didn't know.  Is this screwy or what?

One more small frustration that makes me long for the days when the cheery mail man came up my path at seven in the morning. When people actually met to have chats. And spoke in real sentences. And children played real games involving balls and bats and didn't kill people on Gameboys.
Oh my goodness--I am sounding like an old timer! But do you wish for a return to a slower, simpler age?

Off tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thoughts on Facebook

Facebook seems to have taken over my life this week. I was closing in on the 5000 friends barrier and knew I'd have to move across to a fan page from a friends page. St Martin's kindly offered their IT guy to make it painless. Heaven knows how unpainless it would have been without him. I got messages saying that people couldn't find my new page, that when they clicked on my name their found themselves on my website. When I clicked on my new page I found myself on the section to purchase ads..

Now I think it's working okay, which is good because I'm about to leave for London and want to be able to update folks on my Olympic experience. It's funny that some people love Facebook and others hate it. I really enjoy seeing what my friends are doing and being able to post interesting snippets of my life. I love it that I can have instant interaction with my fans.

But husband, on the other hand, is an example of people who should never be allowed near
Facebook.He joined after he got an invitation from an old school chum. I helped him put up his profile. Then we came to 'find friends'. "I don't want to find any friends," he said petulantly. "Why would I want to find friends?"
"That is, uh, the whole idea," I said.
He remained friendless.
After a few days he came to, highly indignant. "Some man wants to be my friend!"
Me. "Do you know the man?"
He. "Well, yes. We went to school together."
Me. "So why don't you want to friend him?"
He. "I don't want to know what bloody people had for breakfast this morning. I don't want other people to know what I had for breakfast this morning."
Me. "Then perhaps you shouldn't be on Facebook."
He. "But there might be somebody I do want to get in touch with some day."
Me. "Then write them a letter. By carrier pigeon."

What are your feelings on Facebook?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

News from Rhys

This isn't a real blog post, just a quickie, to say that I have had to move across from a Facebook friends page to a Facebook fan page now that I've reached my 5000 friends limit. If you want to see my updates and musings you now need to come across to Rhys Bowen, author and LIKE me.

(Isn't it funny the way we can write these things so easily now. I'd have died of embarrassment a few years ago asking anyone to officially LIKE me, or even 'friend' me.)

I'll be posting my daily updates from England, Olympics and Paris there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Downton Here I come!

I'm rushing around in crazy mode this week because next week we're off to England. Our primary purpose is to go to the Olympics. A friend in London has a house within walking distance of the stadium so it was too good to miss. The slight glitch was that we couldn't get any tickets to any event in the stadium. We put in for 5 days of track, 5 days of swimming and got ZILCH.

It's all done on a lottery system and tickets are..well, rather expensive. We decided the maximum we wanted to spend per event and decided we really couldn't bring ourselves to spend $500 to watch Michael Phelps swim up and down a couple of times. So we've ended up with a strange mixture of events--the only one at the Olympic venue is women's water polo (and of course we have a strong tie to that sport as our daughter Jane is an All American who used to play on the US team)

Then we have women's soccer semi final (should be good), a day of badminton (not my idea--John's. Could be boring) And two days of tennis. At Wimbledon. Yeah! Go Andy Murray. Maybe he'll redeem himself and beat Federer for the gold?

And when I'm not Olympic watching I've got some other fun things lined up: a tour of Buckingham Palace. I've been to the Queen's Gallery before but never through the actual state rooms.(although I did have tea with the queen, it wasn't at the palace).
Then a tour of the Harry Potter experience at Warner Brothers studios. The actual sets and costumes etc. Big Harry fan.
And last,but not least... a tour of the real Downton Abbey.

Is this going to be fun or what? And to crown it all, we're coming home on the Queen Mary 2. This in anticipation of sending my heroine Lady Georgie across the Atlantic in next year's book!

I am so glad I worked hard at my physical therapy so that I can walk well again, otherwise a lot of this would have been impossible. So expect reports from me during the coming weeks. I'll be Our Gal in London to give you the latest scoop!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I was in the spa at my health club yesterday when I overheard the following conversation:
"You can use all kinds of weapons--sword, hatchet, whatever and I just grabbed the guy and ripped his arm off."
"It's like Gears of War 3 only more violent. Blood everywhere."
And in the middle guess who shows up? Chaos!"
"No way!"

Several things were interesting about this exchange. The first was that these were not kids. They were men, at least in their twenties. It took me a couple of sentences to realize that they were talking about a video game, and then my next reaction was that this was more real to them than real life.

We talk about growing violence in our society, about young men seeing life as cheap and yet we have men like this who are living vicariously by killing other creatures on screen. No wonder it's easy to pull a trigger in real life when someone pisses us off.

Another woman was sitting in the hot tub and she and I exchanged amused glances. As she left she murmured to me. "Three words. Get a life."

As I left I found myself thinking 'thank heavens I write historical novels.' First my characters express themselves in complete sentences. They have large vocabularies. They are careful not to mention distasteful subjects and in the case of my Royal Spyness novels all the young men would have fought in World War 1. They would have experienced the real horrors of war and would never want to play a violent video game--trust me.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Welcome to my Zoo

Yesterday on my group blog, Jungle Red Writers, Rosemary Harris posted wonderful pictures of her garden--a stunning three acres of blooming plants. I was green with envy, living on a steep California hillside where not much will grow until I realized that I have what she doesn't have: I have a zoo.

My garden borders the open space above--no fences, just a row of oleanders, and there is rarely a time when there are no animals around. This morning I watched a mama deer and two tiny fawns working their way along the ivy where the gardener had trimmed it back yesterday, leaving good new shoots exposed. It's funny because I'm looking down on them so they don't feel at all threatened. (If I were a mountain lion, I'd hide in a tree and leap down on them!)

I've never seen a mountain lion in our yard, but I know the hill above is their territory and every now and then I have heartache when I see a deer with one baby fawn and know that last week there were twins. We do have coyotes in abundance. I've never seen one on our property but sometimes at night their calls sound so close that I picture them sitting under my bedroom window.

I have seen a fox, however. When my mother was visiting once from Australia we sat on the patio with a glass of wine her first evening here. While we were sitting some deer poked their heads over the patio fence. A fox ran along the top of the fence. And a snake slithered out from between pots. "It's like living in a bloody zoo," my mother commented.

And I suppose it is. I know we have skunks because my daughter's dog got sprayed by one the day before her wedding (and future son in law and I stood in the bathtub trying to cover the frightened dog in tomato juice. He kept shaking until the bathroom looked like Pyscho! And we have racoons too. We hear them fighting and growling sometimes after dark. And there is a Red Tailed Hawks nest in the tree below us. A group of birders showed up on my doorstep once, asking to observe from my balcony. I took them through and was quite happy to let them look through their binoculars until I found out they wanted to set up a permanent observation platform there.... uh, I don't think so.

So we have admitted defeat in trying to create a beautiful garden. We grow what they won't eat and enjoy watching the animals instead. How about you--any suggestions for keeping deer at bay?