We’re home!

Well, the trip back was uneventful. It was a great trip, but it is really wonderful to be home.

I wanted to get photos posted before Miss Brooks got all upset… they are here, and I’ll add some more musings on the trip in the next several days and do some link annotation as well.

Also, apparently there was some trouble with the link to “Tompkins Abroad” I sent out, but it is up and running here.

Paris in the springtime

So I’m in London, meeting up with my friend Jackie this afternoon for some museum-going followed by dinner and the Meeting of the Significant Others, but right this minute my leg hurts, I’m sweating under way more jacket than I really needed to bring today, and in sum I am just not feeling like a terribly adventuresome tourist this morning. So I decided to stop and catch up on my electronic life.

I should begin this by mentioning that as excited as I was to rendezvous with David in Paris for Phase II of the “Jay Porter International Gimp of Leisure European Tour 2003,” I could easily have stayed in Moscow another week. A great city, a great trip, and (as I have long kown) such wonderful and amazing family. I was so sad to say goodbye to Rick and Lisa and have Lisa and Pavel drive me to Sheremetyevo. Once there, I faced an entirely chaotic check-in area and a long line at Passportne Kontrola-where my wish to stay in Moscow was almost granted!

The woman (who bore an alarming resemblance to Bert from Sesame Street fame) in the kiosk looked at me, then looked at my passport photo. About 100 times. Then she called over another officer. More comparison. I am commanded (I finally figured out) to turn in profile. None of this satisfies them. I should point out that although the passport photo shows me in my Dr. Evil shaved head phase, it’s still a pretty good resmeblance-only two years old, unlike the aged photos of many people I know. Anyway, they call over a Russian Army officer, with what I can only assume was a Kalahnikov in tow, and parley with him for a moment. He looks at me, they talk some more, he inspects my passport thoroughly, and then walks off. Bert-woman holds up her index finger in the universal signal for, wait a minute. I’m now completely freaked out. Two more minutes pass, bringing my time at the kiosk to easily seven minutes. The enture queue is now scrutinizing the perspiring American in leg brace and with cane who is, by all appearances, trying to travel with forged papers. I’m standing there, wondering what the problem could be, when Bertevna miraculously just waves me on through. I look sheepishly for Kommandant Kalashnikov but it’s clear that she’s decided I can go. The though passes through my mind that my Russian hosts might just pick every 10th American for a little sport harrassment.

Anyway, my Aeroflot to Paris was lovely-again, a great meal, a good seat, and nobody next to me. Landing at Charles de Gaulle, just as when I arrived in Moscow, the Russians on board broke out in applause. I cannot overstate how disturbing this is, as if they all knew how tenuous our in-flight survival had been-as if there had been an all-Russian announcement mid-flight: “This is your captain speaking. Please do not scare the American in seat 26D, but we forgot to fill up the plane and we’re going to run out of gas any minute. This is our lot in life as Russians. The flight attendants will now bring you vodka. Thank you for flying Aeroflot!”

Anyway, I cleared immigration and got my bag without incident. Given my leg, the vagaries of getting to Paris, and the romance of arriving together, David felt strongly that I should just wait for him at the airport-which was quite sensible. I arrived a little before 3, and he was due in just after 6 from Basel. But his plane kept getting delayed, 5 minutes at a time, and gate information was never available. So I waited. By 6:20, I was a little freaked out-like they didn’t really know where it was, or something. Perhaps Air France was secretly as iffy as Aeroflot? Anyway, when the gate information did appear, it was “1”-which looked a lot more like a terminal than a gate to me. In one of those errors one could only make after obsessing about something for too long, I decided that he was arriving at Terminal 1, not Terminal 2 where I had been waiting. So I jumped on the next shuttle for Terminal 1. Arriving at Terminal 1, where no Air France arrivals were in evidence, I realized my own stupidity. So I hastily called David’s phone and left voicemail apprising him of the depths of my ignorance of the ways of Roissy Aerogare Charles de Gaulle. Then I immediately caught the wrong shuttle, prolonging my journey a good 10 minutes, requiring a hasty change to a terribly crowded tram, and generally frustrating myself to an astouding degree. I finally arrived back at Terminal 2, redfaced and sweaty, to see David calmly waiting for me. Being the prince that he is, he didn’t even laugh at me. Well, maybe one chuckle, well earned.

As I see my Internet time dwindling on a handly little count-down bar, I realize that I should really just compress the whole stay in Paris into a single impressionistic sketch. The colors are sky blue, wine red, and the amazing range of slates and greens and creams that is the inimitable architecture of Paris. Every meal was amazing. Our first night David took me to his favorite place, just blocks from our charming hotel-I kept wanting to go back! Our last night I instinctively recognized that a little spot I passed by coming back from the Centre Pomidou would be great-and it is now tied for the title of “favorite restaurant in Paris.” Of course Paris is every bit as romantic as promised, and David and I had a wonderful time. We did the Orsay and the Picasso museum and I caught the truly stunning Philippe Starck retrospective at the Pompidou. (Link to come, I promise!)

Lisa and Rick will understand what I mean when I say that I really missed Pavel in Paris! Having a full-time driver will REALLY spoil you! (Right Miss Welch?) The Metro is great, blah blah blah, but it is a huge pain in the ass with a bum knee-so many little flights of stairs, with hurried Parisians buffeting me on all sides. And I emerged with a strong opinion that children should not be allowed on the Eiffel Tower. Getting around without my leg brace is nice and all, but it offered visible evidence that I was not in full working order; one might assume that a cane would convey the same message, but no. About 20 kids almost knocked me over, and one bumped into my leg with such gleeful abandon that I was tempted to lobb his yipping American ass over the side. (David is only too happy to hear me speak ill of children, as he tends to hear the phrase “well-behaved child” as an absolute oxymoron.) I did learn to do the city busses pretty well-and they have the added benefit of showing you the sights. I probably could have saved 20 Euro and not done the silly tour bus. When I go back, I look forward to walking Paris just as thoroughly as I did Rome.

Oh, and just as dicky as my knee is my French. As with my Italian in Rome, I can speak fairly well if I consider carefully what I want to say. But my listening comprehension is terrible. Of course I could read Le Figaro in its entirety-which is really great if you want a first-hand perspective on how much the French hate and fear America Rex Mundi, but just not as useful as being able to carry on a conversation in a bar. As promised, I avoided using my French any time David was in earshot. It is really, really nice to be in London after first Moscow-where even decoding the alphabet was a challenge-and then Paris where I was mocked by my former mastery of the language. I really should have cemented my high school studies (I was, after all, awarded “Best French Language Student in Oklahoma” in 1991, for what little that is worth) with a visit to France back then. But as I told David at least once (OK, four times), the joys of seeing Paris for the first time with such a wonderful guide made it absolutely worth the wait.

Well, my time is up and a sunny London afternoon beckons. I’m off!

A nonfamous sister site!

nonfamous.com now has a sister site– or rather, an aunt-and-uncle site:
Tompkins Abroad. Thanks to the miracles of the MovableType system, I used up only 30 minutes of my vacation (well invested, I might add) setting Rick and Lisa up with a blog of their own. If I have ever forwarded you any of her emails, you know how much our life is about to be enriched!

Lisa’s first post , about her kitchen sink, is hilarious.

More Moscow notes

After lunch, we ended our sightseeing today (Wednesday) with a brief stop at the Museum of the Revolution—or more precisely, its dingy but rewarding gift shop, where Lisa and I scored huge with Russian Propaganda posters. I think I took care of pretty much everyone on my list—so if you don’t like Soviet Realism, please email me immediately and I’ll get you a miniature Eiffel Tower in Paris.

I am awfully taken by Moscow. It is filthy with slush and sand and salt in the roads and on the sidewalks; the traffic approaches Rome levels of threat to passenger and pedestrian alike, with the worst system of one-way streets imaginable; and it is a terribly expensive city. But despite all this, despite the fact that it still hurts to walk and climb the million stairs involved in going anywhere, I am loving my stay and already plotting my triumphant summer return when I plan to be fleet of foot and warm under a canopy of birches.
Continue reading “More Moscow notes”

Welcome to Moscow

Well, I arrived mostly without incident and am having a wonderful time with Rick and Lisa here in Moscow. The sob story of BA’s inability to get me an aisle seat landed me an upgrade to World Traveler Plus from Seattle to London (thanks, knee– and the lovely Charlene!) and I had a whole row of four to myself on the surprisingly enjoyable Aeroflot into Moscow. (Great food, shockingly.) My bag did not make it until the next day, but this was not tragic. After a stop on the way home from the airport for pizza and “piva” (beer), I slept really well. No trouble from the knee, apart from a little stiffness.

Sunday was great– we had a little light breakfast and then went to lunch at a truly fabulous restaurant called Nostalgie. It was old world charm meets new Russian money, with spectacular results. We had amazing blinis with red caviar, and the foie gras with Rick’s tuna was absolutely the best I have ever had (Paulette, I was thinking of you!). My steak was excellent, and Lisa’s crepe Suzette for dessert was the perfect end to the meal (Rick and I ate almost all of it). After that, R&L’s really nice driver Pavel (more on him later) took us to Red Square. Wow. Again, more on that later after we go back. We could not get into GUM– the giant amazing department store– due to something that looked like a cross between crowd control and military exercises. We walked over to the Hotel Metropole (and I was a bit cold and sore of knee by now) and had tea. Pavel picked us up, and after some reconnaissance for a bar David’s coworker Masha recommended, we returned home.

Rick and Lisa have the DVDs for the first season of Six Feet Under– which I had not seen. It was their first viewing of any of the series, and they love it. Especially Rick. We had to cut him off after four episodes so we could get some sleep (not that I got too much… I am a bit out of sorts with the 11 hour time difference). We watched another this morning with breakfast, and as soon as I sign off we are off to the Novodeveichy Monastery. My big victory of the morning: calling and confirming in my phrasebook Russian that it is indeed open today. Score one for phonetic transcription!

More updates later.

Project Steve

As a scientist, the whole creationism debate infuriates me. Why is it that those that are wrong always have the best PR, and can whip up a list of “scientists” to support theories that no real scientist even gives a second thought to? The media eats that shit up though. So it’s nice to see something like Project Steve. A list of 200+ scientists — including 2 Nobel laureates — willing to sign there name behind evolution … all called Steve. Classic! Check out the media links. Nice to see scientists for once tackling the problem not with reason (which rarely works to sway public opinion), but with wit.

This… is… JEOPARDY!

Originally emailed 2/27/03 following my sound drubbing on Jeopardy…

The Short Version:
I didn’t win. I did have fun.

The Slightly Longer Version:
I was fodder for the Jeopardy mill, falling not ignobly to a true machine of a Jeopardy player who was, I feel certain, on his way to being a five-time champion. And at some point in the future I will receive a $1,000 check for my troubles. All in all, a very memorable and enjoyable experience.

The Full Version that Reveals Details You Might Want to Save for the Show’s June 17 Air Date, So Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You:
Continue reading “This… is… JEOPARDY!”