Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Question of the day

Yes it's been months. I know. I have many updates and thoughts. But the most urgent one is this:
Why don't I want to watch Downton Abbey?? I have the episodes ready, and I've been avoiding it for weeks. Why is it that I have no desire to watch them??? Can anybody help me solve the mystery?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remebering Reid

I'm on vacation in Florida with my family.  The weather is beautiful, the sun is hot, and the ocean is divine.  Our week of relaxation is almost over, and I should feel refreshed and renewed.  Carefree and rejuvenated.  But I don't.  I'm distracted.  I have a heavy heart.  I keep sneaking away to cry my eyes out.  I feel a tugging at my soul.  A longing to go there, to the big house on the hill, to walk in the woods out back, to see my other family.  To remember.  To hold his hand.  To hug him.  I sent him a text, but is that good enough after all this time? What comfort can I bring to someone in so much pain? I feel so helpless and I don't know what to do. 

This week, I lost a brother.  You might not be aware that I had any brothers, but my sisters and I have 3: Tristan, Reid, and Patrick Winpenny.  Actually Tristan was more than a brother to me; he was my first boyfriend and my soul mate.  Okay, we were really young, but he was.  Ask my sisters.

When my parents were first married and living in Pawlet, Ned and Patty Winpenny were their closest friends.  Of course it was only natural that when they started having babies, their babies would be very close too.  From the moment we were born (well, Patrick came later, but we still consider him our brother), we were together.  Thick as thieves.  Playing, exploring, finding and torturing all sorts of small animals, running around naked in the sun and in the mud, and creating magical bonds that will never die.  My Pawlet memories are the best of my life, and I attribute it all to being almost next door to our closest friends and second family.  The Winpenny family is so special to us.  Ned was tall and mellow, with a great sense of humor and he walked with a long and relaxed stride.  He liked to drink beer, and he always smelled good to me.  I loved his facial hair.  Patty is loving, nurturing, and easily our second mother.  She always had nice smelling glycerine soap in the bathroom.  I think it was Pears.  The boys were our best buddies and nothing could keep us apart.  Even when my mom said no, I couldn't be stopped when I wanted to see Tristan.  Once I even took Soe with me, who couldn't have been much more than one or two years old since she couldn't talk much.  My mom said "not right now," then walked away.  I said "Hey Soe, wanna walk up to play with Tris and Reidie?" "Ya!" she said, so we started walking along the road.  I'm pretty sure I was naked, and Soe was just wearing a diaper.  We almost made it up to their house on the hill, which was a little under a mile from ours, but then a big huge truck came and scared us so much that we decided to turn around.  We started walking back and I think my mom picked us up in the car.  I'd like to think that instead of spanking me and rushing me home, she brought me up to my boyfriend so we could play.  Those days were ecstasy, if a girl as young as I was understood what ecstasy was.

Then, suddenly, we were torn away and had to move.  We would never again meet another family that clicked with ours just so.  I would never meet another boy that knew me as well as Tristan did.  I never forgave my parents for taking us away, but now that I'm a parent I do (sort-of) understand that they were just trying to do what was best for our family.  Time went by, and we grew up.  My parents kept in touch with Ned and Patty, but we girls didn't do so well.  Of course we thought of them all the time and missed them, but we were young, turning into teenagers, and distracted by our new surroundings first in Maine and then in Northern Vermont.  It didn't seem to matter though; whenever we reunited, it felt mostly like old times, with a sprinkle of pubertal hormones and the awkward confusion that comes with them.  When Ned passed away unexpectedly we went back for a beautiful memorial at the house.  I was in such shock, in such a haze of confusion, I don't remember much.  I remember the drive up to the house, and having a sense of longing.  I remember so many cars we had to park way down the road, around the spot where Soe and I had turned around all those years ago.  I remember Tristan, sitting and watching, seemingly in another world.  I remember that I couldn't reach him.  Patty was in shock and was hugging everybody.  I was a teenager at the time, and I was angry.  Why did this happen to our Winpenny family, who deserves nothing less than a perfectly happy life? To live and love as they always had? Would Patty every recover from losing her love?

It seems, all these years later, that they did recover.  Sort of.  We all continued living, and slowly the pain of the loss subsided. The only one that continued to struggle was Reid.  In all the years since he lost his Papa, Reid has been a tortured soul.  And who can blame him? I certainly don't.  But we have all worried, kept Reid close in our hearts and our thoughts, hoping he would find comfort soon.  It wasn't until recently that he started coming around.  Actually it was just over a month ago that my mom emailed me to say that Reid is doing really well and is helping Tristan with his apiary (my mom keeps me up to date on the boys since I don't do Facebook).  Here's a picture she sent me of him with Tristan (on the left). 

On Sunday, my mother called to tell me that Reid left us.  "Reidie has had an accident" she said, "and I'm afraid he's gone." Just like that, he's gone.  Just when I was breathing a sigh of relief for him, his life is over.  My overwhelming feelings of sadness have surprised me a little; I have loved from a distance but haven't seen him in so long.  Still, he was my brother and time will never change that.  I am so sad.  On Saturday there will be a memorial for people to come, share love, stories, and comfort each other.  Since I will be on my way home from Florida and can't be there, I thought I should write about my favorite memories of Reid.

Reid was beautiful, inside and out.  Really.  His face was absolutely breathtaking.  He had a special spirit.  Calm, easy going, thoughtful.  He was a lover.  His smile would light up a dark room.  Reid had the most glorious laugh I have ever heard in my entire life.  A mix between a belly laugh and a delicate giggle, that was infectious.  Actually all the Winpenny boys laugh like that; it is music to my ears.  Of course my fondest memories were from when we were young, before he knew the pain of losing a loved one.  I don't have many of just Reid and I - really only one that comes to mind often - since I was usually with Tristan playing doctor.  But we had a few fun times just the two of us.  Reid was always down for anything and loved to be naughty.  Not as much as Tristan, who was very naughty, but naughty enough.  They had a big huge barn full of wonderful things to get into.  Once, I couldn't find Tristan so I invited Reid to explore and he of course was delighted to oblige.  We went into the barn and started digging around for treasures, and found a tarnished old cornet that looked desperately neglected.  I said "Hey Reidie, should we surprise your mama and paint it?" He got a twinkle in his eye and helped me find the silver paint.  What a job we did.  We brought it to the house, holding it up with pride, and somehow Patty held it together.  She just kept saying "Oh, no, no, no!" and hugged me while saying it.  She always knew how to keep her cool even when desperately trying to hold back the rage.  At least that's how I remember it.  That family is full of nothing but love.

Reid's spirit will always be with us.  I will always think of him when I'm having a quiet, thoughtful moment.  I hope that this Saturday, when everyone joins together to honor Reid, each person is able to grab a hold of something that they can take with them, to ease the pain, to cherish the memory.  For me, it will always be that delightful and magical giggle.

Friday, January 4, 2013

First turns

Last year, we started Sapphie in ski lessons at Cochran's in Richmond.  Honestly, I was pretty hesitant to do it; Sapphie wasn't even 3 years old yet and Kevin was really itching to get her on skis.  When we found out about Cochran's, who offer private, very affordable lessons for toddlers, I decided we could go for it.  She did a 4-week package, and seemed to really enjoy it although, as you might expect, she didn't get much beyond learning how to be on skis.  This year we enrolled her again, and after just one day, she's blown us away and taken off...she's officially a skier!! Click the play button on the videos below to see for yourself! Now I can't wait to get Teo on skis :)


Friday, December 7, 2012

Mi última noche en Madrid, y adiós!

For our last night, I was in the mood to celebrate (you will likely find out more later).  David, the Director of Research and Development and the organizer of this conference, was also feeling good that it was over and was a huge success.  Antonio wanted to take us all out (those of us who were left anyway).  I had made plans to have dinner with my cousin Anna, but when Antonio asked me to join them I really felt like I should since, afterall, they brought me here and we had some celebrating to do (again, more later).  Antonio said “have your cousin come to the restaurant at 10, and you can go with her for a drink.  So, I let her know where I’d be and told her to come pick me up for an after-dinner drink.

We started our evening at the museum across the street, which was putting on a Cartier exhibit.  How magnificent! It was really amazingly well done, with a timeline of history, and 4 completely pitch-black rooms, with huge cases of jewels in the middle.  On some of the black walls, they had slideshows of the drawings that were used to design the pieces.  Grace Kelly, a huge idol of mine, was the Princess of Monaco in case you didn’t know.  The Monaco family loaned several of her Cartier pieces for the exhibit, including her famous engagement ring.  My favorite of all was a set from 1850.  It was a very grand necklace with a matching broach and jeweled hair comb.  The stones were purple and the metal was gold, which had a very darkish tone because of how old it was. 
After the museum, we walked into a very old restaurant called Lhardy, and were led up two flights of spiral stairs to a beautiful dining room.  The walls were leather (click on the link if you want to see!), and the woodwork and molding were very dark.  We sampled more amazing food, had wonderful discussion and delicious wine, and I was again feeling so grateful to be there.  All of a sudden, Antonio said “Emma, it’s 10.  I will go see if your cousin is here.” We hadn’t even finished our main course yet, so I was a little worried.  I didn't want to be rude and leave right in the middle of dinner!  Two minutes later, he reappeared with Anna, who was very red in the face.  He made her sit, ordered her some food, and told her to be with us! We ended the night with a fabulous dinner, and finished with “baked Alaska” for dessert, which was so yummy. After dinner, Anna and I went and had a drink at a local bar.  It was great to catch up with her.  Would you believe that in Madrid, the bartenders yell "Hola!!" to every single person that opens the door?! And it's a sincere hello! I loved it.  Anna walked me home, and I went to bed. 

This morning, after a quick 3 days and nights, I said goodbye to Madrid.  It was the perfect morning, wet and rainy. I had my last breakfast at the hotel, then took a taxi to the airport.  This time, the driver spoke English, and he was so animated! He was telling me that most young people are learning English, because it's important, but that the old people still insist that visitors should speak Spanish (he said 90% of the tourists in Spain are English-speaking).  He dropped me off, I had a perfect flight home, and am now waiting for my flight to Burlington, and really enjoying documenting my wonderful memories from the week.  It was certainly an experience I will never forget and, for sure, the start of something big, exciting, and lots of fun.  xo

La Segunda Noche en Madrid

After a long and very intense (but fabulous) scientific meeting, punctuated with 4 coffee breaks, a 15-minute pre-lunch cocktail party, and a lunch of gourmet (Ritz-style) tapas, I went to my room to put my feet up.  I was feeling a little dizzy from the exhaustion and the jet lag, but in just 45 minutes we had to be down in the lobby for a group outing. 
After a quick toes-up and a change of clothes, we all met in the lobby and took the bus to the old part of the city, where we were to have dinner and see “the best Flamenco show in Spain” according to Antonio.  I won’t say much about the food, because of course it was delicious and the company was good.  I have to say, though, that I’ve decided the sit-down meal is actually quite boring! Yang Ming, who is Chinese but lives in The Netherlands now and was with us the night before, kept looking at me with twinkly eyes and saying “Nice, but not quite as good as last night…”

The restaurant was old, with low exposed beams and small old tables.  It opened in the mid 1950’s, and I’m pretty sure the tables and chairs were original.  There were brochures at each plate to tell us about the star dancers that would be performing: Beléne Lopez, who is also the prima ballerina for the Madrid ballet, and José Fernández.  All I can say is that words cannot describe the show they put on.  The four old Spanish men with guitars, the costumes, the emotions, and the speed at which they moved their feet had me on the edge of my seat the entire show.  I was totally blown away, and just kept clapping and cheering. The show lasted about two hours, and we all loved it.  Marcos explained to me that the reason they don’t smile is because they are often telling a serious story with their dancing.  Ocassionally, though, Beléne did smile.  I pointed it out to Marcos and he said “she smiles because as part of the song, the guitar players are talking about her, telling her she is beautiful.  That’s the only time the dancers smile.”

Sapphie would have loved the show.  I am so glad I bought her a Flamenco dress straight from Madrid!

Buenos Noches Madrid!

Sorry about the introductory qualifier, but I just want to say I do have some pictures.  However, the wireless connection in Philly is so terrible that I'll have to post them later! 

After the long flight and all the afternoon walking, my legs were tired.  When I got back to the hotel, I made a huge bubble bath and soaked in it, then slowly did my nails (this is a luxury to me now; it's impossible to do my nails with Teo around)! Just as I finished, the phone rang.  A wave of terror came over me: I was planning to relax some more, then go to bed! Who could be calling? Will it be a last-minute request to work tonight? To network with the visiting scientists? Oh God, I didn't think I had it in me.  I let the phone ring and didn't answer.  I had my computer, so I started to email Kevin and ask him what I should do (sure I was tired, but this was a work trip...they didn't pay my way over here so I could lie in bed!)....then, it rang again! I decided I should pick it up. 

It was my dear colleague Antonio.  Antonio is a little older than me, is an absolute teddy bear of a Spaniard, loves to socialize, and lives in Madrid.  I could hear the excitement in his voice that I answered.  "Emma" he said, with a strong Spanish accent.  "If you're not too tired, I'd like to take you around my city, we'll have some drinks and take some tapas, and it will be a good time.  Are you too tired?" Of course I immediately said "no! I'll be down in the lobby in 15 minutes." As the words came out of my mouth, I was already regretting it.  I would be exhausted the next day, which was going to be extremely long and intense! But I was not going to disappoint Antonio, who was clearly so excited to have all his friends and colleagues in his city.  I pulled myself together, got dressed, and put some bright lipstick on.  That always makes me feel better.

When I got to the lobby, there were three other men with him.  One from Barcelona, one from The Netherlands, one from Switzerland and one from South Africa.  And me.  What a mix! As soon as we started walking, and Marcos started gently talking to me with the most dreamy Spanish accent, I immediately knew I had made the right decision, and would never have forgiven myself if I spent my first night in Madrid in my room!!

What an unforgettable evening we had.  It was absolutely one of the best nights of my life.  I love Spanish people.  We walked for hours, literally, from about 5 to 10.  We sampled from all over the city, and Antonio took us to all the best spots.

First stop: the "meat museum."  Sounds weird, but it's more like a very high end deli with more types of cured meat than you could ever imagine, cheese, and wine.  Of course, the first meat that caught my eye was called pata negra, is considered to some to be the best ham in the world, and was, no joke, 90 Euro per kilo! Antonio grabbed my arm and said "we try that one." Then he got a twinkle in his eye and said "how about some sherry with it?" Yes please!! And that was only the beginning.  We slowly ate the thinly sliced and very divine pork, which comes from an Iberian pig that eats mainly acorns (bellota in Spanish).  The meat is very red and extremely flavorful, and the marbling is thin, uniform, and almost clear.  I was dying over the taste, and how well it went with the sherry, when I looked over and Antonio, who had a lukewarm look on his face.  "It's good, but not as good as I had expected.  There is better meat elsewhere, let's go!" So off we went to the next stop, and Antonio proved his point there. 

Second stop: a market called Mercado de San Miguel.  Antonio explained that this used to be an old, stinky and dirty market that smelled like fish.  One day, someone decided to clean it up and started this very unique sort-of gourmet food court, but that really doesn't describe the elegance of it.  It is a food court in the sense that it is enclosed, with counters all around and some tables in the middle (most of them without chairs).  Each food counter has a different type of food: wine, cheese, olives, more olives, more olives, seafood, cured meat, raw oysters, you name it.  Antonio walked us around the entire place, then told us to go stand at a table and he would bring food.  He brought us wine, plates of meat, olives, cheese, and even some "pork crackling" as my new South African friend Benny called it, which went surprisingly well with the wine.  Benny said when he was a boy, he used to put crackling in his porridge and that it was absolutely divine! We stood for a long time talking, eating, and raving about the flavor.  We could all taste the difference in this meat, which was also "Bellota" but much more flavorful.

After the market, we decided to walk.  A lot. We walked all over the old part of the city.  Antonio stopped a lot to explain the history, and give us neat little bits of trivia.  For example, the copper statue of a horse on its hind legs was made in the 1600’s.  At that time, the sculpture did not know how he was going to make this huge and heavy horse standing on its hind legs without the whole thing crashing down.  He consulted with Galileo, who suggested that the hind legs should be solid copper, and the entire front half of the horse, which is mostly up in the air, hollow.  What genius! The palace is the second largest in the world, second to the palaces of St. Petersburg in Russia.  It has never been attacked, so almost all of the furniture and décor are original (that’s right, like 300 years old).  I really wanted to go in (it’s partly a museum now), but it was closed.  We peaked in the back, where the king has parades and horse performances.  Next we saw the old city hall - there is now a very grand (and ugly, according to Antonio, who doesn't seem to like the Mayor very much) one right near the Ritz.  The mayor thought the old one was too small! I thought the old one was much more beautiful. 

After all the walking, we needed some more to drink.  Antonio led us down a very narrow and old road, and said “it’s ugly, but this is where the best tapas are.” The street was lined with these little dark, almost dungeon-like old restaurants.  They were very specific: one said “mushrooms” and the one next to that said “tortillas.” Antonio was very excited to have a tortilla.  We entered into the tiny door, and the old Spanish chef (actually all the workers in the restaurants were older men) was just heating up the oven, at 8:30pm! So we went next door to have some mushrooms and some wine.  The mushrooms blew all of my expectations.  They were upside-down caps, stuffed with a little cube of chorizo, and sprinkled with garlic and parsley.  The chef was just putting the first batch on when we walked in.  He grilled them slowly on the hot cooktop, and served them to us with some of the vino de casa.  Honestly I think those mushrooms have destroyed me.  I don’t think I’ll ever taste a mushroom that good unless I go back that that place.  "Fantástico!" As Uncle Jerry would say.
After the mushrooms, we went back to the tortilla place. Antonio was very excited
and asked the chef if the out-of-towners could watch.  I saw eggs, potatoes, and garlic and started to get confused.  “Antonio” I said, “I thought we were having tortillas.” “Ah…Emma, tonight we will have real tortillas! The best in Madrid.  The Mexican tortillas are not the original.” What an amazing thing! We sat at these tiny short old tables, about the size of Sapphie and Teo’s table at home.  Out came the wine, some beer for Marcos, and the tortillas.  Imagine an omelet with potatoes and garlic (no cheese!), that is full of flavor and has the most delicate texture.  Apparently it’s almost like paella because you have to know when it’s done, then stop touching it and just leave it in the skillet.  Then a couple of flips in the air, and it’s ready to eat!
We laughed, we drank, and ate until our bellies were stuffed.  Benny commented that even though we hadn’t eaten a large amount, he felt more satisfied than he does after a huge sit-down meal.  “This is something I could really take home,” he said.  Benny is so cute.  He’s a real South African, if you’ve ever met one: extremely friendly, curious, engaged, and very easy to talk to.  It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with such wonderful people!

In ecstasy, we slowly walked back to the hotel.  I felt like I was on top of the world, and so glad that I had been given such an amazing opportunity to experience this amazing city, the people, their unforgettable food, and their unique and fabulously social food culture.  Muchos gracias, Madrid!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hola Madrid!

I arrived at The Ritz at 8am, and they let me check in early (they were so nice of course). I wouldn't realize this until later, but the Ritz Madrid is one of only three original hotels designed and built by César Ritz, who was an architect, in collaboration with King Alfonso XIII, who needed a place to have good parties.  The other two original hotels are in London and Paris; after those three originals were built, the Carlton family purchased the Ritz name and went on to build many hotels. This one was built in 1910 and is absolutely beautiful; it’s considered a baroque palace! 

 Here's the outside of the hotel.  Look at the decorations!! The whole hotel is really magnificent. 

 Here's my room from the entrance

And here, from the bathroom

I love my bar!! It was literally a little door in the wall.  I love Europe. 

Inside the bar


View from my window

After a short nap, I decided to freshen up and walk around Madrid.  I hadn't eaten since I left Philly and was pretty hungry.  I found an adorable little café, and ordered my first (very Spanish) meal:
Café con leche, a side of olives (I never realized how well they go with coffee!), and a huge hot sandwich of Chorizo paste with melted cheese. Brian Mangual would have been proud.  It was delicious!!

The waitress at the cafe was very friendly and, it turned out, spoke excellent English.  I do have to say, that during this trip my old feelings of frustration with Papa came up again.  Why didn’t he teach us Spanish? It is my biggest childhood regret.  I have a Mexican colleague, whose husband is German, and they live in Shelburne and are raising their kids tri-lingual (she doesn’t speak German, and he doesn’t speak Spanish, but they only speak their mother language to the children). It would have been so easy Papa! You can only speak Spanish to my kids from now on.  Anyway, at first, I tried to speak Spanish.  When I'm traveling, I always feel it is really important to respect the fact that I am in another country, and it is (in my opinion) disrespectful not to appreciate their language and acknowledge that they might not speak English.  Here's how it went:

Waitress: "Hola, buenos dias."
Me: "buenos dias.  Café con leche por favor."
Waitress: Caliente?
Me: "Oui."

Oops! She laughed and started speaking English. 

After I enjoyed my amazing lunch, I asked her where I could go to get some gifts (this was my only free afternoon so I need to get that done ASAP.  She told me where to go, gave me a map, then said if I come back she'll wrap up some olive oil for me (they sold some at the restaurant).  She explained all the different types of olive oil that they sell, and I told her I would come back later so I wouldn't have to carry them all over Madrid. 

She sent me to an area called Plaza Mayor, which is near the old part of the city.  It was a wonderful walk and absolutely beautiful.  I walked all over, got some presents, and after a few hours made my way back (it was 3pm and I was exhausted from the jetlag).  I stopped at the café, got my olive oil, and headed back to the hotel. It was a wonderful, warm, and friendly first day in Madrid.
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