the past is just around the corner

I have now watched all of the episodes of The Roosevelts.  And no, I'm not going to reflect on war, poverty, child labor, discrimination... Well, actually, I reflect (obsess) on one or more of those topics much of the time, but this isn't the forum for sharing my little and probably unoriginal thoughts on global problems.  Let us proceed to the individual and the personal, where I can comment as expansively or as pettily as I wish.

Even in his own time, Franklin had the reputation of being a "cad," which is the description then accorded a guy who was a rat with women. As more and more years go by, and more and more material is made public, I expect more and more details of his caddishness to emerge. Things like that just do. Eleanor, whose reputation was that of a good person or an interfering do-gooder (depending on how you voted and how you lived), had "special friendships," which were gossiped about, but it seems that even her detractors didn't seriously object to her having "special friends." And good for her!

Everything sped up as we careened past the end of one century and started rocketing towards the middle of the age of unbounded media, so I fully expect to live to see a spate of books and articles in which young women with minor careers and smug smiles trumpet their sexual triumphs with any number of more recent politicians, heads of foundations and other public figures. I'm sad for their children and grandchildren. I read an interview with a woman who worked in the JFK White House in which she seemed to think that what she was doing was serving her country. Who would have expected some of these people to brag about their exploits and get them published?

Anyway, I have now watched all seven episodes, and have decided that History Lite has its place after all. It's a good way to introduce the History Began With Moi generation to the concept of The Past.

On a more cheerful note:  Sagamore Hill is a great place - to go inside you need a reservation, and these can be difficult to arrange, especially during school field trip season. I went there on a school field trip, and again on a family trip, and I recommend it.

If you come to New York City and can't arrange to get out on Long Island to Sagamore Hill, the famous double Roosevelt House at 47-49 East 65th Street that Sara built for Franklin and Eleanor and her Own Royal Self is right around the corner from the J.Crew Collection Store on Madison Avenue at the corner of East 66th Street. The house still stands, although the inside has seen much modification.

I'm serious - when we travel,  Himself makes a list of restaurant destinations and I make lists of the historic and cultural destinations on the way to or from, or in the same towns as, the restaurants. I see no reason why this approach should not be useful for shopping. Or, conversely, for choosing which historic sites to visit.

The Roosevelts - not just a costume drama

We've had one or two chilly evenings, and I've spent them watching The Roosevelts. The more eclectic of my brain cells have focussed on the clothes and hats and shoes, how they changed, and how, as in the case of FDR's mother, they, well, didn't.  I also studied the early photographs of young Eleanor. Although not conventionally pretty by the standards of her time - no fine-featured blonde was she! - her heavy eyes and full mouth reminded me of Sophia Loren's in her early years.

It's been easy to work up happy enthusiasm for TR, outraged sympathy for Eleanor, and as for FDR, well, one of my uncles had had infantile paralysis as a baby, as an infant, that is, he never walked. The depiction of FDR's brace, crutches, his nightmares, his perseverance, resonated with me, in my head I heard Pop's tales of how his baby brother kept trying to crawl... I thought of the cheerful, intrepid man my uncle became, and of the impact the terrible disease had had on the entire family. If I sneezed at night, my dad would be right at the door: Are you OK? Did you sneeze? and then, in a careful, deliberately casual voice, Does your neck hurt?

the terrors that creep by night, the arrows that fly by day,
the pestilence that stalks in darkness, the plague that wastes at noontime..

I think also of my grandmother's desperate courage, massaging, stretching, tempting the toddler forward with fruit and candy, insisting on the private use of a public swimming pool, and of my grandfather's insistence on "no tears".

No tears.

My generation - every one of us cousins had the vaccine. And dancing lessons.

am I being pursued?

I thought I'd said all there was to say on this topic :

but no. It's still being flogged to the innocent and unwary. Don't be fooled.

style inspiration, world traveler department

at the airport - a gate agent refused to let these guys board the plane 
because their carry-ons were too heavy

those guys had a good excuse.
so does this catalog model.
she needs the money. 

Summer travels - the planning, Day One and some hints for travel with little ones

In May and June, when asked to describe our summer plans - well, really, isn't the whole point of summer not to make plans? - oh, yes, but after a short century of refusing to plan, we found ourselves planning.

The broad outline of our summer plans went like this:

Plan trip to London and Paris with two little kids

Take trip

Spend rest of summer recuperating from trip

Since we tend to be lazy when traveling, as in not climbing to the tops of monuments, the tops of castles and forts, the tops of churches and cathedrals, all of which have narrow twisty staircases with short steps, and then you have to go back down, we knew from previous trips with kids (not these two, but kids anyway) that this particular adventure would be more, um, physical than we've been doing lately. There would be climbing. So my personal readiness plan included (a) lose 10 pounds because every 10 pounds you take off takes 120 pounds of pressure off the knees and feet, and (b) test-drive shoes and remember which pair was which.

Even though our trip was in July, weather can be chancy, and so we listed indoor as well as outdoor activities and walks for each city. The kids brought plastic rain ponchos, and we supplemented these with zip-up hoodie sweatshirts when we got to London. Himself and I tend to avoid summer travel because of the crowds, but the kids could only come when school was out. So we agreed to deal with the crowds and not complain.

Rather than book two hotel rooms for the four of us, we took little apartments in each city. This let us have breakfast in, and on some days, light lunches or suppers. And we had a stash of snacks, juice, milk, and more than one bathroom.

And so, we arrived in London. The kids loved the taxi from the airport, best part was the little jump seats which were just the perfect size for little kids. In fact, after that ride, every time we stepped outside, little voices would clamor "Can we take a taxi?" "Do we get there by taxi?" "Look, there's a taxi, why are we standing at a bus stop?"

Time changes were not as tough as we had anticipated, not being sleepy at the right time was easier to deal with because the London apartment had a living/dining room with a large television. The kids loved British TV, even programs that were way too young or too old for them and some that I wouldn't have expected, like silly cooking shows. If they woke up early, they helped themselves to cereal and milk and plunked themselves in front of the TV. Did we come to London to watch television? Of course not, but they did enjoy hearing everyone speaking with a variety of British accents, and had fun imitating some of the sillier characters.

For our first day, we had booked what was billed as a Small Group Tour of Highlights - pick-up at our hotel (the apt. building was owned and managed by the hotel next door), a narrated tour of London on a double-decker bus, early beat-the-crowds entry to the Tower of London with a walk led by our Own Personal Beefeater, a boat trip up (down?) the Thames, and a reserved viewpoint to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. All at one price, and they would buy the admission tickets, scout out the lines, and so on. It seemed a very sensible way to get some important sightseeing done, leaving the next few days open for whimsy.

The night before the SGTOH, we got an email telling us that the hotel pick-up would be in front of the Ritz Hotel Casino Entrance on Piccadilly, since our place was on a one-way street. The airport taxi had had some navigation problems with this street, due to construction, so we didn't think this was odd.

So in the morning, we walked over to the Ritz at the appointed time, and waited. After a while, the casino doorman came over and asked if we were waiting for a tour. It turned out the tour people had called the doorman(?!?) and asked him to tell us and any other waiting visitors to meet the tour at Gate 15 at Victoria Bus Station before 8:30, when the tour would leave. There was, apparently, traffic. In London! During rush hour! Quelle surprise!

I wondered why the tour people just happened to have the doorman's mobile phone number, but there wasn't time for discussion. The kids were happy enough to have another taxi ride ($35), but all of us were taken aback by the mob of commuters, travellers and asylum-seekers at Victoria Bus Station, which was not as bright and well-kept as the Port Authority Bus Station in New York. In fact, it lacked only a few chickens on the floor to make me insist that we bag the tour and see if Gordon Ramsey could fit us in for lunch. I said as much to Himself, and whatever his answer might have been was drowned by cries of "Look! Pigeons!" Which of course we had come all the way from New York City to see. The pigeons were monopolizing the few remaining seats.

Squawks from the PA system directed us to an open door and after an argument with a man holding a clipboard about getting our taxi money back, and more words with a lady with large family and large dog headed for Graz (right. Austria), she got off and we got on our bus.

The bus was comfortable enough, and held - let's see, about 80 of us, but it was not a Red Double-Decker Bus. Hint: Be careful about how anything is described to kids. Any variance from the description will require repeated explanation.

The narration of the drive through London was pre-recorded. Clipboard Guy told us how to tune our earphones.

The Tower of London, for those who haven't done this, attracts throngs upon throngs, which means lines and lines and waiting and waiting. Coming with a group meant that our tickets had been bought in advance, and we did in fact move in a shorter and faster-moving line.

The kids had a scanty background, if any, in English, Western European, North American history. They attend multi-cultural schools with politically correct curricula, and that does make it difficult to explain colonialism, let alone the Reformation, heresy and beheadings. So our Personal Beefeater's brief remarks  - make that Random Beefeater snagged by Clipboard Guy - pointing out where various bloody events had occurred on the large inner courtyard and in the different buildings, had little significance. Except that Younger Child was terrified, having no concept of elapsed centuries. The Queen's jewels were a big hit. The Tower's gift shop had recently been restocked with a full line of Disney Princess merchandise and Younger Child cheered up - until she understood that we had no intention of buying her a £60 velvet princess dress - accessories were extra. Note: we'd given the kids basic books about London and Paris when the idea of a trip first arose. Oh, well.

Clipboard Guy gathered the group and we trotted across a few streets and climbed aboard for our boat ride on the Thames. There may have been narration but we didn't hear any. Off the boat, up some stairs, and we raced to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace from our Personal Vantage Point before the ceremony was over. We were in time to stand at the entry to the park and see a group of Guards marching away. Photo op. Then we tromped through Green Park, back to the apartment for late lunch and some relaxation.  The Pret-à-Manger chain - mainly sandwiches and salads -has outposts throughout London, and Marks & Spencer has little "food halls" sprinkled around, and that was where we hoped to do any necessary food shopping.

So - would I recommend doing a sightseeing tour like this? It wasn't cheap, and I had the feeling that if the bus had set out on time, the scheduling might have worked better.  Still, when traveling with kids, you want them to enjoy the experiences, and the wasted hour at the grungy bus station didn't set a happy tone for the day. The lack of informative talk along the way was also annoying. You can certainly find the Tower of London without a tour bus, and you certainly don't need the tour bus to see the Changing of the Guard, although if you want to really see it, you need to get there a few hours early and be prepared to wait. There's also a quite reasonable "Hop On, Hop Off" sightseeing bus, which is a real red double-decker bus, and you can make your own list of Highlights. I think I would do that if I were to plan the London segment again.  I was not impressed with our tour organizers and if you want to do a tour, email me and I'll tell you which group we used so you can try a different group. There are many.

Next travel post: Fish & Chips, Trafalgar Square, The Theatre.