I finished uploading my photos of Belgium. You can see them here. Or on my Facebook page.
If you are deliberating about going to France or Belgium, I'd advise Belgium. The architecture is more interesting, the people almost all speak English (an important consideration if you're concerned about what you eat) and vegetarian food is a bit easier to find. The chocolate is superior, and Speculoos paste...well, it is just beyond words. (I advise eating it with pretzels.)
But mostly, Belgium beats France in one very important respect: Toilets. The toilets are much cleaner. And after eating all that food and drinking all that heady beer, you'll be looking for a toilet.
There is something so civilized about a country with clean toilets and lovely chocolate. I can see why the EU set up headquarters there. I can just imagine the discussions way back when: "Paris? Non! Bruxelles! Chocolate! Beer! Toilets!"
I'd go back in a heartbeat, if anyone's interested.
If anyone wants to buy me anything for Christmas (I'm looking at you, Daughters Number One and Two) you can get me slippers. I know it sounds cliché and cheesy, but I really like slippers—with these hard floors, it's nice to have something soft underfoot.
Currently I have around five pairs, but only one of each. That's on account of the dog, who likes to carry a slipper around in her mouth. She wakes me up (at five a.m., almost on the dot) and picks up my slipper next to my bed. She usually carries it over to her "bed" (the couch) and leaves it there, but sometimes it ends up who-knows-where.
And when the doorbell rings, she grabs a slipper and greets whoever is at the door with a slipper hanging from her mouth. (Better than underwear!) Sometimes she heads out the front and returns without my slipper. My neighbors probably wonder why so many slippers turn up in their garden.
When the dogsitter's here, she does the same with her slippers, or sometimes she finds mine and hides them.
I've tried to bargain with her: "Find my slipper, I'll give you a treat! Okay, a bone then. Two bones and a treat."
Doesn't work; she doesn't see the need to produce my slippers on command. Maybe if they were treat-scented.
Anyway, that's what I want. Nice, comfy slippers. Something at least that the neighbors will be impressed with when it turns up beneath the hydrangea.
This llama is making a repeat appearance on Friday Llama Blogging. She lives in Hurley, overlooking the Thames. It's a beautiful location, despite those caravans in the back (which are actually holiday homes).
Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. We had a quiet day. I made focaccia with potatoes, and decided to make a corn soup from the vast quantities of corn in my freezer. It was delicious, and if you consider that corn is a traditional Native American dish, quite the T-day dish. You can find out how here.
I kind of like not having the pressure of a full-blown Thanksgiving meal to prepare.
You all have my sympathy, today, anyway. On Saturday I'm making a non-turkey loaf and bringing it to a friend's Thanksgiving celebration, delayed by two days due to British work schedules.
And top on my list of what I'm thankful for: That I'm not caught up in the terror in Mumbai. My heart goes out to those who are.
It is impossible to overstate the amount of goodwill Barack Obama has around the world. Seriously, he could invade Wales and the rest of the world would join in, figuring it was a righteous crusade. Poor Wales would be toast. (Or at least Rarebit.*)
In the tourist information center in Brussels, I picked up a local English-language guide, The Bulletin. On the cover was a picture of Barack Obama, getting off an airplane in Belgium. Wishful thinking and artful Photoshopping—he hasn't been to Belgium yet, but they're hoping he'll make it one of his first overseas stops, as is the rest of the world.
But with that goodwill comes enormous expectations. Today on the radio I heard a couple of economic experts discussing the financial crisis, which is as bad if not worse here than in America. When asked about the British government's announcement yesterday of an economic recovery plan, which includes reducing VAT by 2%, one economist moaned it wasn't enough. "We'll have to wait for Barack Obama to rescue us," he said, or words to that effect. He wasn't joking, either. The rest of the world is hoping against hope (yes, that pesky hope again) that Barack Obama will magically pull the economic equivalent of a rabbit out of his hat. Or at least appoint some very, very smart people to solve this crisis.
This world-wide love-in is a good thing. While Obama won't invade Wales, or hopefully any other country, this goodwill does give him a great deal of leverage that no other American president in memory has had. It's a very real possibility that Middle East peace could be achieved in this decade.
It's a 180-degree reversal from the George Bush era—enough to make an expat's head spin. Many of my friends have reported they're getting gushing praise from their British associates, who are suddenly ready to love Americans again. On CNN International, emailers suggested the Bush administration quit now and let the Obama administration have the reins of government immediately. They were serious, too. One even suggested we amend the constitution to make such a thing possible.
I don't remember how the world greeted the election of John Kennedy. Perhaps it was the same. But Kennedy didn't have the weight of the entire world and on his slender shoulders, unlike Barack Obama, who the world seems utterly confident will solve the financial crisis.
Perhaps the honeymoon won't last. Perhaps Santa Claus isn't real either. But it sure is nice to have the respect of the world again. Seriously.
I didn't really get any pictures of the snow yesterday in Belgium—my hand was too cold to pull out of my pocket—but we got snowed on, intermittently, almost all the way home. The snow stopped around the border with France, which is just a short distance to Le Tunnel sous la Manche.
We stopped for a few hours in Ghent, or Gent, depending on your persuasion, and trudged around through slush. We duly adored the Mystic Lamb, ate vegetarian food, and bought lots of this.
I think someone should paint the Adoration of the Mystic Speculoos. I'd make a special pilgrimage to see it.
On Saturday we took our usual walk through the nearby wood. I turned the corner but after a minute or two, I realized the dog wasn't behind me. I turned to see her standing at alert, tail high but still. I looked to see what she was afraid of. Two English sheep dogs were coming toward her on the opposite path. "It's okay, they're your friends," I told her in a reassuring tone, but what do I know—I'm not a dog. Then the smaller, younger, of the two came toward her, tail wagging, and they exchanged sniffs. All was well.
We continued on our walk, with the two sheepdogs in front of us. It was then I noticed the larger of the two dogs had no tail. Not even a nub. Not a hint of a tail. It must have been an accident. Tail docking is no longer legal here, except in certain circumstances, but even a docked tail retains a stub. This one had nothing there. And I realized that was what the problem was earlier: The older dog had no way of telling my dog that she (or he) was friendly, and my dog was naturally being cautious, standing at alert attention until the larger dog's intentions could be discovered.
Dogs use their tails like a signal flag on a ship. In a dog book I have the author tells of his two Dalmations, one with a docked tail, the other with an intact tail. Despite the fact the docked tail female was the less aggressive of the two, the author had noticed she invariably was perceived by other dogs to be the more aggressive. A cautionary tale—excuse the pun—for those who'd like to dock a pup's tail.
Dogs only wag their tails when someone—human or animal—is around to see
it, a hint that it's an entirely social and purposeful reaction. Nature has
enhanced some dogs' tails, like mine, with light colored hair that is
easier for other dogs and humans to notice. That's why so many dogs, pure
bred and mixed breed alike, have white tips at the ends of their tails.
There are subtle differences in tail wags: recent research has shown that dogs wag their tails to the right when greeting their owners; to the left when facing an unfamiliar, possibly aggressive dog. The position of the tail also signals exactly how excited or relaxed a dog is, or whether they see themselves as "top dog" or in a more submissive role. Bristling tail hair is a sign of imminent aggression, while a broad, rapid tail wag means "I love you and want to lick you all over!"
Sadly, tail docking is still done by many breeders for aesthetic reasons, but it's unspeakably cruel—literally. With no long tail to wave in the air, dogs are left with little way of communicating. The pain may be over soon, but the deficit lingers on, as I saw on my walk Saturday.
Moral of this tale: Don't cut off your dog's tail.
For the last few weeks, BBC Radio 4 has been researching a piece on the group I belong to, the Chilterns American Women's Club. (That's something of a misnomer—we're not all women, nor are we all Americans.) The programme aired this morning. It's a pretty good piece, especially if you've ever wondered what it's like to move to another country. The ex-pat life isn't as glamorous as I sometimes make it out to be. It can be a lonely, isolating experience, especially for the spouses who don't have the built-in support of a work environment.
The two BBC producers accompanied my hiking group with their fuzzy mics and questions. You can hear me (at around the 10:00 mark) leading the group into the "lush Chiltern hills", showing off the pretty village of Latimer and the knot garden there. I also introduce the dog, my co-leader. She tried to eat the mic. Thought it was a stuffed rabbit. But at least she didn't run away, like the little terrier did. "Who's got the white terrier? Come back!"
If you want to listen, go here and click on "Listen Again".
Sounds like a horror movie, doesn't it? Coombe Hill, the highest point in the Chilterns, is where these lambs (and I think they're still technically lambs, though I'm no expert) live, with a fine view of Chequers.
As we were walking down the hill, four lambs formed a single file line on the narrow path, and the dog decided she wanted to sniff their butts. I had to hold the leash pretty tight. She's never chased sheep before, but I always keep her on the lead just in case.
I think she finally discovered the source of those tasty morsels she's been eating in the sheep pastures, and wanted a closer sniff:
Please don't go away. We need you. Who else could give this the appropriate treatment?
BLITZER: Does that mean you want to come up with a new Sarah Palin initiative that you want to release right now.
PALIN: Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.
You absolutely cannot make this up. Believe me; I've tried.
Once again, we hiked around Chequers, a place I've been to so many times they probably roll out the welcome mat when they see me coming—and see me they do. There are big cameras mounted in the front drive, since it's a Protected Site Under Section 128 of the Serious Organized Crime and Police Act of 2005.
I could do a whole photo album on my dog lying in puddles. She always plops down in the first puddle she comes to.
Fortunately, she was better behaved than on a previous visit. Click below for more photos.
On Omaha Beach near the American cemetery in Normandy.
Nothing brings home the enormity of the sacrifices made by America's servicemen like a visit to Normandy, France, where tens of thousands lost their lives.
Walking through the American cemetery there, I was overcome by the thought of all those crosses and Jewish stars, each representing a life lost. Those men would be grandfathers, great-grandfathers today, had they not heeded a call for service to their country, to the world.
And looking again at the Jewish stars, I'm reminded of how different things could have been if so many had not been willing to fight for a cause greater than themselves.
For many, there is no one left to remember them. They will forever be a mere name on a cross, on a star, in a sea of graves. War is horrible, and should never be glorified. But today, on Veterans Day, we should take a moment to honor those heroes who never came home.
I had to spend extra time at the gym today. Here's why.
I'm slowly developing some upper body strength, after my bout with frozen shoulder. I actually felt my muscle today—a little hard nugget where I used to only feel bone. My left arm still lags behind my right arm, and for some of the machines I have to take the pin completely out of the weights. But I'm now up to 25 minutes, 4000 meters on the rowing machine, or one and a half cookies.
I started out at 12 minutes, 2000 meters. At this rate I am sure to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics.
British journalism celebrates Americans electing a man with a brain.
Here's a taste of how British opinion of America has changed. This clip from comedian Marcus Brigstock, when America was at "maximum crapness," is representative of the British humour-laced commentary on America, pre-Obama.
In one particularly apt comparison, he charges: "If America were the internet it would be BT Bloody Broadband." It doesn't get much worse than that.
Fast forward another election cycle, and my, how times have changed. During Wednesday's PM's question time in Parliament, all three party leaders rushed to compare themselves to Barack Obama: "I'm just like Barack Obama," intoned Gordon Brown. "No, I'm like Barack Obama!" insisted David Cameron. Not to be outdone, the Lib Dem leader shouted "I'm Barack Obama! In the flesh!" (You see why our comedians are so funny; there's so much to work with.)
On Friday, Radio 4's satirical The News Quiz started out with the American election news. One of the panelists remarked, in a voice normally reserved for taking the piss right out of politicians: "If we could be allowed to drop our tone of cynicism," he said to applause, "it's bloody marvelous he's been elected."
But satire is not completely lost. In the same program, Sandi Toksvig, commenting on the "sea change" in American politics, said "No one dared to believe Americans would put aside their prejudices and elect a president with a brain."
I'm not sure, however, that British comedians will know how to take the piss out of a black man. This weekend, one radio program left it to American's satirical website The Onion, reading its headline: "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job."
Thanksgiving. Sadly, it's all about the turkey. What's a vegan to do? Adopt a turkey!
You don't have to be a vegetarian to adopt a turkey at Thanksgiving. You don't even have to be willing to give it a good home. Farm Sanctuary will do that for you.
For a mere $25 you can adopt a turkey. There are several gorgeous birds to choose from. Your turkey will live a life of ease at Farm Sanctuary, gobbling around with the other turkeys. It will never be eaten on Thanksgiving like other, less fortunate turkeys.
That's good to know, isn't it?
(Shh! Don't tell, but I've adopted two extra this year, as gift adoptions! Won't they be surprised when they find out they've got their very own turkey?)