Friday, December 31, 2010

Season's Greetings

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year! We missed the mark in posting a holiday note this year.  The days leading up to our departure to Beirut was busy with work travel to Chisinau, Christmas "dos" (British English for party or event), birthday drinks, and packing for 18 days abroad. Hope it was a great one nonetheless and hope you all survived the winter snowstorm here in London.

We're back in London safe and sound. Four countries (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine -- in that order); three border crossings; two Roman ruins; one wedding, plus Crusader castles; beautiful mosques, churches, and synagogues; desert landscapes, beaches, snow-capped mountains; one epic journey....priceless.

More to come...

Happy 2011 everyone!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

1960s Mad Men Cocktail Party

We may not own a tellie, but that doesn't stop us from watching one of our favourite Emmy-winning TV shows -- Mad Men. Joining the ranks of The Sopranos, The Wire, Band of Brothers, Curb your Enthusiasm, Lost, and Deadwood, Mad Men has become our latest TV obsession.

It's been awhile since we had a large get together at our flat, the last being the Wine Party back in May, we thought it would be fun to organise a soiree to celebrate the holiday season and all the upcoming December birthdays. Channeling my inner Betty Draper, we hosted a Mad Men 1960s themed cocktail party at our flat yesterday and it was a great evening with friends, cocktails, and faux cigarettes.

The Setting: Send out invites early so everyone has it on their "diary" as we all know Londoners have busy schedules. Ask Gents to come in skinny ties, plaid pants, and shirt/tie and Ladies in 1960s vintage attire (think: circle dresses, high heels, red lipstick and done hair).

The Bar: It's all about cocktails and cigarettes! A full bar is a must, but at the very least, have on hand high quality gin (Bombay Sapphire) for those 1960s classic martinis and Tom Collins (my favourite); bourbon (Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, and Whiskey Sour); vodka for Vodka Gimlet (Betty Draper's choice); and rum for your modern day Mojitos. Equally important, unless you like your drinks "neat," have mixers and other "bar kit" including soda water, tonic water, variety of juices, and lemons, limes, green olives, mint, and ice. Also invest in a cocktail set with both a Boston and Manhattan Shaker. 

Most of our friends are non-smokers so we got a bunch of faux cigarettes from the party store at Clapham Junction. It looked pretty darn real! Don't forget all your Lucky Strikes to set the tone; we cheated and wrapped biscuit boxes with Lucky Strike logos as decorations.

Music: Start your play list with jazzy notes such as Stan Getz or any Latin jazz. Then move on to classic rock such as The Beattles (Can't Buy Me Love, Love Me Do), Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watch Tower) , The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, or pop rock including as Elvis or The Beach Boy, and Motown -- think The Supremes and The Temptations.

The Food: Keep it simple with 1960s classics Deviled Eggs, chip-n-dip in honour of Pete Campbell, veggie platter, lamb skewers, and a cheese plate. Also have on hand, peanuts, bread sticks with hummus, and crisp (chip for all you Americans).

Entertainment: Once everyone has had a few round of drinks, time for a 1960s trivia! At this party, the Americans were outnumbered by Brazilians so I had to split the two token Americans up since my trivia questions were somewhat North America-centric (I was excluded being the host) -- one team with  Keenan and the other team with our American friend representing New Jersey. I came up with trivia questions in four categories: Mad Men & 1960s TV; History & Politics; Pop Culture, Movies, and Music; and Sports. It was a lot of fun and looking forward to Season 5 of Mad Men and our next theme party get together.

Enjoy the photos below:
Keenan in Mad Men Mode
Channeling our inner Drapers...
Cigarettes and a glass of wine a la Betty Draper

Mad Men Yourself...Keenan and Lily


1960s Trivia Questions

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gobble, Gobble... Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving across the pond!! We're very thankful for friends, family, and good health. It's hard to believe that this is my second and Keenan's third Thanksgiving in London. Time is sure flying by!

Unlike last year when we made Thanksgiving dinner for 9 people, Keenan and I had a small Thanksgiving dinner this year. Since we're hosting a 1960s Mad Men theme cocktail party this Saturday, we didn't think it would be sensible to host a big Thanksgiving dinner just two days before. So this year, we had Thanksgiving dinner for two, but I ended up making enough food for six people. Guess we'll be eating a lot of turkey over the next few days!

Thanksgiving Menu: Herb de Provence rubbed Turkey breast, green beans with hazelnut, cauliflower-brussel sprout gratin, bacon-leek stuffing, buttery mash potato with gravy, cranberries, and pecan pie

And, a Thanksgiving message from Keenan's Dad:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have never a lump.  
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Mr. TV License

Dear Mr. TV License,

I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for writing to me once again. I very much look forward to your letters and to our subsequent correspondence and I am particularly flattered that your contact with me has become more frequent over the last several months. I can only imagine that the reason for your most recent letter of urgency to me is that Mr. Cameron has been reminding you that the budgets are stretched pretty thin and, as a result, the BBC may finally have to look for alternative ways to fund its mission of falling just short of public expectations for engaging programming and attempting to maintain relevance in an increasingly competitive and dynamic television marketplace.

This may come as a surprise to you, but as we have discussed about eighteen times over the last twenty-five months, “my situation has not changed and I do not require a TV license”. Although this used to be the extent of what I was required to tell you and our conversation would end cordially after this revelation, I have decided to elaborate in an effort to remove all ambiguity from our future communications, which according to my schedule, and based on past experience, should commence just shortly after you receive this forthcoming letter.

While it is really none of your business what I decide to own or not own, and legally I am not obliged to reveal my personal tastes or habits to you, I will nonetheless hereby declare what seems like the impossible. I do not own a television. It is true, and much to the disbelief of friends and colleagues, I am quite happy to keep it that way.

The reasons behind this very difficult lifestyle choice are varied and complex, but it is largely due to the fact that I have absolutely no interest in British television whatsoever. I understand that by not owning a television I am forgoing the unpredictable weekly drama of “The X Factor” and the award winning writing of the “Eastenders”, but I made the decision having fully acknowledged the consequences of not being able to speak competently at work about what happened on “Celebrity Big Brother”.

I hope you don’t misinterpret my criticism and take it personally. I have similar sentiments towards the vast majority of programming across the pond, but the difference is that if I do choose to watch Bristol Palin attempt ballroom dancing or follow the romantic trials of New Jersey teens in a hot tub at least I am not taxed extra to do so.

I realize you may be concerned about what I choose to do with the rest of my time and how I treat that void that only “Strictly Come Dancing” could fill. Please rest assured that I have miraculously found other things to occupy myself with including, but not limited to, a job, friends, clubs, books, and travel.

I hope that you appreciate my honesty and I enjoyed this opportunity to discuss the issue with you candidly. I could have just as easily told you that owning a television is of the devil and against my religion, but that would have been dishonest. Just as lying about owning a television to avoid the TV license is unethical, so too would be making up a fantastical lie about why I don’t own a television just for the sake of ridiculing you.

I sure feel like we understand one another a lot better now. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the issues I have raised, please feel free to contact me during my regular operating hours of 10:00 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. If you experience that I have what seems to be an unusually high call volume, I am simply busy being a productive member of society and suggest that you try again later.

Kind Regards,
The Bloke Who Doesn’t Own A Tellie

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Wrocław: Poland’s Hidden Gem

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Wrocław (pronounced Vrots-waf), located in the Silesia region of southwestern Poland, near the borders with Germany and Czech Republic. Initially my enthusiasm levels waned as it was not a city I had ever heard much of prior to this work trip, especially in comparison to Poland’s better known attraction, Krakow. This is why I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival when I found an elegant and charming town that has yet to be engulfed by the map of European mass tourism.
With almost 30 colleges, including Wrocław University, 20 percent of the city’s population is comprised students, and this is reflected in the young and academic vibe of the Old Town where hip bars, book shops, and quirky cafes abound. Unlike a lot of European Old Towns, Wrocław’s Rynek (Main Square) benefits from lacking an overly touristy element and instead exudes a more local authenticity, as well as shockingly low local prices.

Additionally, and probably as a result of the massive amount of high-skilled workers originating from these universities, the city is quickly becoming one of the preeminent targets for international business in Eastern Europe. Google, Microsoft, LG, Volvo, Siemens, Nokia and Hewlett Packard maintain significant operations in Wrocław and the European Commission continues to invest millions on infrastructure and regeneration projects in and around the surrounding areas.

The city’s history is long and complex, reflecting the historical narrative of Poland itself, having transferred to and from Germany (still referred to as Breslau in German) several times, and almost entirely destroyed in intense bombing during World War II. While the city’s outlying areas are full of concrete block high-rise flats reminiscent of its communist past, the city’s centre has been almost entirely reconstructed to its former splendor.

Most of the city centre is easily covered on foot and the main sights include the City Hall, the Rynek, and the numerous churches, foot bridges, canals, parks, and university buildings scattered around the Old Town. Also make it a point to spot as many of the little gnome sculptures placed randomly around town as possible. These gnomes serve as a memorial to a local artist movement which was prominent during the Cold War that protested communist rule through the use of symbolic art.

My personal experience with the locals was that they exude a warmth and hospitality more customary of a small village, while the city itself conveys a humble, yet optimistic confidence about its future and important economic contribution in the European Union (Poland was one of few countries in the European Union which escaped recession in 2009). As one of the host cities for the 2012 Euro Cup and a candidate city for the 2016 European Capital of Culture, the city resonates with a pride and enthusiasm that is often times not immediately associated with Eastern European cities.
If people say that Krakow is the new Prague, then Wrocław is most certainly the new Krakow and worthy of being placed on the map of up and coming Eastern European destinations.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bay Area Love in London

Last week saw the historic, first ever World Series win by the Giants since their arrival to San Francisco in 1958, also an important moral victory for Bay Area/Northern California sports which have been lackluster at best recently. We watched the highlights, recaps, and even woke up in the middle of the night several times to follow the exciting events as they unfolded, and watched as our friends cheered live on Facebook and Twitter. Last week also saw the first ever San Francisco 49er game played at the legendary Wembley Stadium here in London on Halloween night. When my Dad planned his trip to London, he made up his mind that we would be attending for certain.
I grew up in a diehard 49er household, during a period that they dominated the NFL as one of only a handful of true dynasties in American Football history.  In fact my friends still tease me that my sporting memory doesn’t seem to go beyond their fifth and final Super Bowl appearance and victory in 1994, and there is no doubt that this team hasn’t really been the same for a long time now.  However, seeing this team that is often referred to as “the best, worst team in the NFL” play as the host city in London was an incredible experience. 

The stadium, probably the nicest sporting arena I have ever seen, and fans were overwhelmingly pro-San Francisco while Denver fans were few and far between.  Although there was a massive American presence that evening, attendance was close to 84,000 people in total, curiously most of whom were Brits cheering for San Francisco. There is no doubt that in the United Kingdom, football (“soccer”) is the king sport, followed closely by Rugby and Cricket.  However, one thing I have learned about the Brits since living here is that they are dedicated sports enthusiasts and enjoy a good game, no matter who invented it and who plays it.  While I don’t see American Football becoming hugely popular in the UK anytime in the near future, they appreciate sport enough to loosely follow it, especially if it is being played in their own backyard. The NBA has been slowly trying to make inroads into the UK by playing pre-season games at the O2 Arena here in London, most recently hosting the LA Lakers last month, also to a sold out crowd.  My instinct is that basketball is probably slightly ahead in terms of global appeal, based largely on the pace of the game and increasing presence of global players and competitiveness.         
Why they were so fiercely pro-San Francisco I’m not sure, aside from the fact that San Francisco is probably the most European of American cities.  Although San Francisco is significantly smaller than London in terms of both geographic area and population, they seem to share a sort of kindred spirit although New York would seem to be a more comparable city to London in terms of size, scale, and diversity, but ironically Londoners are not too keen on New Yorkers, seeming to prefer San Franciscans instead. 
Decked out in his San Francisco Giants windbreaker jacket and sporting his old retro 49er baseball cap, my Dad fit right in with the crowd at Wembley.  Sporting my old school Super Bowl XXIII baseball cap and throwback 49er t-shirt I blended into a stadium that was covered in red jerseys and San Francisco banners, full of Bay Area love, and at times I forgot that I was sitting in London.  It was the perfect way of showing pride in what I consider to be two of the greatest cities in the world, London and San Francisco, and even better that the 49ers were finally able to pull off a win for a mostly British crowd that was showering them with unconditional support.

 Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants and best of luck to the 49ers for the remainder of their season! --K.V.