Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Big Hand for Ukraine

  You have to love this country.  Our bit of Florida - and not just our bit - is a useful place to be if you like classical music. It's common for renowned orchestras from chillier climes to gravitate here during the winter months. We went to a performance of an excellent Polish orchestra in nearby Sarasota which will this winter also be welcoming the English Chamber Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic among others -  all glad to get out of the cold. But last week was special. Here in our snazzy High School Performing Arts Center (sic) we, in little old Venice, were privileged to encounter, for one night only, the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine.

  "We've got to get to this", hubby exclaimed and snared us a couple of tickets. As expected, the event was soon sold out - they urged us to arrive early if we wanted to have a hope of parking.  The conductor, Theodore Kuchar,  made a short speech. They'd arrived in the US six days previously and this was their sixth concert. There were going to be forty concerts in the US altogether. Forty! And they played their hearts out as if this was the only one. Dvorak's  From the New World was particularly poignant. Everyone of them, the conductor said, had families, parents, siblings, children, in Ukraine, some of them fighting. They were doing their own sort of fighting.

They didn't need to work much on hearts and minds here in Venice. They already had our hearts. There's a big expat Ukrainian community nearby, with two Ukrainian churches and right at the start of the conflict, a giant truck appeared in the library car park collecting clothes, blankets, medicines, anything that might help.  An endless queue of cars edged its way round the car park, people handing over bundles and bags,  people shouting "good luck!" So many wanted to do something, however small. 

The audience at the concert stood and cheered and shouted "bravo",  several waving Ukrainian flags, one girl wrapped in a giant one. The back row of the orchestra unfurled their own flag. It was heartwarming and unforgettable.

Wonderful, hubby said, but they need more than cheers.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Books Corner: Lost in Translation


   A neighbour has placed this bibliophile fox next to his Little Free Library. One of the nicest things to happen in local communities these past few years has been the proliferation of those wooden boxes on sticks where you can exchange books. Though second hand book shops probably aren't thanking them. My idea of heaven is sunshine, coffee and a good thriller, preferably a good British thriller. And you can get a lot of those here from libraries little and large.

  There is, however a fly in the ointment. As I've complained before in these pages, there are few things more calculated to bring out my latent Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells syndrome than British books republished in American translations. 

  A recent example is The Appeal, by Janice Hallett. British author, British characters, book set in Britain. It's a clever novel, based entirely on emails and texts between the various protagonists and I was enjoying it when I noticed something odd. The amounts in the charity appeal on which the story is based were written in dollars. Dollars? Surely even the dimmest reader would understand that the Brits do things in pounds. And then, horror of horrors, a character faced with an emergency dialled "911". In Britain. That wouldn't get them very far, except perhaps to the mortuary. I had already encountered this same atrocity in a previous British book and had a friendly correspondence with the author, who said it exasperated her just as much as it did me but she was powerless to do anything. The American publisher insisted on it. 

  I note that Philip Pullman had a rant about this in the Times the other day. I hope someone takes notice  but if a writer of his stature can't do anything about it, I wonder who can. Perhaps it's up to American readers (and I haven't met a single one who approves of the practice) to put their collective feet down. After all it's nothing other than insulting. Do the publishers think Americans are stupid or what? Note that it doesn't happen the other way around. When I was a child I happily read American books like Little House on the Prairie and What Katy Did, which were full of American words. I understood them perfectly well and it was a good learning experience. Yes, America has different words for things. Interesting. 

If you read a book set in another country you might just want to know how people there speak and not be confused by artificial mid-Atlantic mish-mash.

 The American translations I've found  infiltrating British books include "football shoe", "row house", "baby carriage",  "drapes", "dollhouse" and "garbage can" (although they forgot to change it from "dustbin" again further on) and that's just what I scribbled onto a bookmark in one reading session.

If I was back living in London I could get the good old original British edition from the library. But not here.

Why? I would dearly love an answer.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Happy/Merry Christmas!


As we shiver here in Florida, complaining when it's 40 degrees (that's F not C) out. It's much much worse up north. In short, glad we're not there. 

And up north you wouldn't get Santa on a jet ski. This is not at our house, I hasten to add.

Well it had to happen sooner or later.

Have a good one!

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Revolutionary Talk

 It's been a while, I know - a combination of utter despondency at Harry Kane's penalty miss and the usual hassle running up to Christmas.

I had an interesting time today at the monthly meeting of a group called the Sons of the American Revolution, of which hubby is a proud member. They all have to be descended from someone who fought for the American side in the War of Independence and are keen on promoting better knowledge of history and the US Constitution. They are impressively patriotic in a good way and refreshingly free of party politics. I was quite touched by how they welcomed me - even though I'm British. I assured them that, in 1776, none of my ancestors were anywhere near Britain and had no role in persecuting the gallant American colonists. Maybe one of the central European ones even went to fight for the American cause, in which case I could join the Daughters, who have their own organisation  - but I expect I'll never know. 

The SAR often have interesting talks about little snippets of Revolutionary War history. Today it was about a chap called Pedro Francisco, known as the Giant of the Revolution, who wielded a six foot sword and was wounded six times and allegedly lifted an 1100 pound cannon, single handed. Hubby though that might be embroidering the truth just a little.

And last month visiting speakers dressed up as Abigail Adams (wife of the second President), her son John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson

and read from some of their letters to each other. Letters full of learned quotes and beautiful - and courteous -  language, as far removed from Tweets and other examples of what passes for modern communication as you could imagine.  That's the forward march of civilisation for you. Interesting that, after Independence, both the Adamses and Jefferson spent time in Paris and London. It must have been one heck of a difficult journey but people just got on with it. And here we are in 2022, complaining about delayed flights.

And while I was chatting with people around the table I was struck by how the conversation invariably turned,  as it often does here in America, to people's ancestry and - yes - where they really came from. And guess what, no one was offended. A different culture here, I suppose. Most people originate from somewhere else and can't wait to be asked about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

So Everyone's Happy - For Now

 I'm talking about hubby and me and our transatlantic relationship which survived a challenge on Friday when England drew with the US in the World Cup. The most heated clash since Bunker Hill, according to the Wall Street Journal. Steady on. Today the US were playing Iran and England playing Wales at the same time, so we had a couple of screens going and fortunately were able to yell for the same sides. (Sorry, Wales and Iran). 

I am pleasantly surprised at how things have progressed here. When I first came to the US I seriously wondered if I could live in a country where our local paper referred to the World Cup as the Men's World Soccer Championship and gave it about three lines at the bottom of page six. But now they're covering it on two mainstream TV channels - and yes, they showed the England match too. And they cut to shots of American fans celebrating wildly in a bar - it could almost have been London. I noticed some of the fans wielding banners proclaiming "It's Called Soccer". And there's a whole TV commercial, starring David Beckham, devoted to the subject. Of course Americans call football soccer, to differentiate it from the weird game where beefy hunks in helmets and huge shoulder pads do little else but charge manically at each other for a few seconds, then stand around waiting for the TV commercials and hardly ever actually kick a ball.

I'm also pleasantly surprised by the American commentators, who are far more diligent about telling you what's actually happening on the pitch than their blase British counterparts. It's called the zeal of the convert. But they did go a bit overboard when Chelsea's Christian Pulisic, aka Captain America, who's had a bit more experience of the Beautiful Game, as played across the pond, than most of his confreres, got a nasty blow to his tummy while scoring the one American goal. He sacrificed himself, they gasped dramatically, nobly taking a fearsome injury for the good of the team and the glory of his country.  Welcome to real football, chaps.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Road Trip at Random

 The beauty of the annual meandering road trip sister-in-law and I take down to Florida is that you never know what you're going to come across. Like getting passed by a string of Corvettes, all different colours.

Or accidentally stumbling upon  Shade Tree Rare Books  Chatham, Virginia. It was just a small town, with a small, friendly shop selling used and antiquarian books. They had an extraordinarily eclectic selection (what was Nigel Nicolson's autobiography doing in Chatham Virginia?) and some lovely tomes about  local history  but nothing prepared us for what lay beyond the door at the back. "You must see our reading room".

And what a reading room! I could spend several happy hours just browsing. The proprietor, Henry Hurt, is himself an author as well as a passionate booklover. Do check it out if you're ever around that way.

Rather less intellectual are some of the restaurants we've come across. This barbecue place offered a dish that was not for the faint-hearted (in every sense.)

No I did not chomp on the 7 Meat Feast for 135 dollars, just took a pic of the menu. I contented myself with some very lean and tasty brisket.  And there was a lot of it. Thank goodness for the American custom of doggie bags. We had enough for sandwiches for the rest of the trip.

Now here's a place that's gone down in legend. Remember Jimmy Carter? The venerable former President is still living in the tiny town of Plains, Georgia.

And long may he do so because the town has obviously thrived on his name. There's a row of Jimmy Carter themed gifts shops, a restaurant, a Rosalynn Carter garden, a museum. And of course peanut motifs everywhere.

When he campaigned for President in 1976, Carter was described in Britain as a peanut farmer, though he was other things besides, including a former Senator and Governor of Georgia. When we were in Plains he'd recently celebrated his 98th birthday and the locals were allowed to stream past his family home to pay their respects. 

Then it was on to Florida and Seaside an early architect-designed model town with its pretty-pretty white fences and charming buildings and a small, snooty eatery that wouldn't serve us coffee despite calling itself a cafe. Well I suppose words mean different things here.

Seaside is where The Truman Show was filmed. The one about the chap supposedly living in an idyllic small town, with a perfect wife,  who realises he's spent his whole life on a film set, being ogled at. He finally escaped - as did we.

Apalachicola, however is still a genuine fishing village.

Albeit a touristy one.

The only trouble with it was that we couldn't find anything to eat. We'd forgotten that we had to re-cross the time line and it was an hour later than we thought - and too late for lunch.

By the time we got to our overnight digs in Perry we were pretty hungry. We did not patronise this place but just had to take a photo. 

OIA. Only in America.

And just to point out that Florida isn't all ten lane highways.

Our friendly robot, Carmela, took it on herself to send us down a dirt road. It was fun - for a while. Such are the pleasures of staying off the highways.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Not a Trick Photo

 More on the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. This giant tree, with a root ball like a monstrous paw, toppled around the corner from us.

I couldn't see what happened to the back of the house but it certainly must have come close. It looks like something out of a horror film but I can assure you it's genuine. Lots of people seem to be saving bits of their cherished trees, perhaps to make into coffee tables.

Meanwhile the beach has some interesting new contouring.

Though otherwise looked peaceful early in the morning.

I have to say they've been remarkably efficient in carrying away the piles of debris by the roadsides. There's still some there though and, horror of horrors, we've just heard that there's another potential hurricane approaching later this week. Well goodbye to what's left of our garden fence.

But here's a little bit of cheer. Our poor orchid tree that succumbed to Ian appears to be sprouting. 

We're going to let it go and see what happens. If it grows again it'll be much better than a coffee table. It will be a miracle.

Meanwhile, speaking of hurricanes, it's election day tomorrow. Except at our local library it's been election day every day for the past few weeks. 

If you don't know what the bumper sticker stands for, I'm not going to enlighten you. You can look it up. I didn't see the other side's equivalent or I would have included it, in the interests of fairness.

It's been quite a circus, with tents put up next to each other for Republicans and Democrats and some just urging people to vote early (and, I hope, not often). There were substantial queues snaking into the library conference room. A nice lady thanked me for voting but I pointed out that I was a foreigner and a disinterested observer. "Well thank you for using the library then!" she gushed.