Saturday, April 11, 2015

An ordinary Saturday

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I feel like I’ve spent the winter empty-nesting in Dorset.  Four months in the big house, all to myself after the girls moved on to their own places in December.  Now, it’s nice to have company again, the young Greek couple and the Italian cardiologist.  We took an outing to Ashley Cross to introduce folks to the butcher, the grinder, the baker, and the green-grocer – I’m starting to feel like the Porter for our local college.

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I drove the kids to work this morning and made a quick pass along Poole Quay to pick up some coffee and baked goods.  Rowers were out along the inner docks, foreshadowing today’s Oxford/Cambridge boat race. 

Sunseeker’s newly-christened yachts are lined up for delivery – but the rumor is that the new Chinese owners, Dalian Wanda, may close the shipyards soon.  I spoke with a local businessman standing for Poole’s MP position in the upcoming election – he plans a campaign to grow the service sector around tourism and sailing instead.

It seems a pity.

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DSC00188 (864x1300)House-share means sharing the house-cleaning, and this is my week.  It takes an hour to get through the posted list: vac ‘n mop, oven and sinks, bathrooms up and down.  There was probably a time when rooming-house arrangements were common in cities across the US, but it feels like a throwback to my grandparent’s age now. 

‘back yard, sunshine, milky-coffee and reading before settling into finishing the marking for the Cambridge class term papers:

  • DSC00191 (1300x1064)I’m intrigued by Jared Spool’s suggestion that every meeting should end with the group answering three questions:
    1. What was the big idea? (What was the most important thing you heard at the meeting?)
    2. What was your big surprise? (What was the thing you saw or heard that surprised you the most?)
    3. What’s your big question? (What’s the biggest unanswered question you have at this time?)
  • DSC00204 (1300x867)WSJ Expat asks whether Expat Bubbles, enclaves offering the simple comforts of home in a foreign land, are good or bad.  I have tended to ‘go local’, preferring to mingle with locals, wrestle with finding and using service providers, and eschewing Starbucks or McDonalds (unless I need the WiFi stop). 

Living abroad can be hard and … after a day of wrestling with the city, it feels good to return to a pad that has sitting (not squatting) toilets that don’t clog, power that stays , Living abroad is hard and expats learn to celebrate small victories, like correctly telling a cabbie where to go in Mandarin or deciphering salt from sugar at a grocery store where labels are in the local language.

After a day of wrestling with the city, it feels good to return to a pad that has sitting (not squatting) toilets that don’t clog, power that stays on  a unique clustering of nationalities, and maybe, just maybe, an oven (but that’s really pushing it in terms of amenities, at least in Beijing).

Expat life sounds harsher in Asia than in Europe…

  • DSC00219 (1300x813)David Brooks writes about two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace; The eulogy virtues are those related to character, like kindness, bravery, honesty or faithfulness.  I agree with him that we develop these traits by meeting life with self-criticizing humility, honest openness, and love for others.  But I don’t agree that we each have to find and confront  a core sin, motivating all other negative traits.  A confederation of lesser sins, pesky and disconnected, is my experience (I’m currently subduing Carelessness: In my rush to achieve the Big Goals, I mustn’t overlook the small acts that matter to myself and others).

Next week, back to the Netherlands: Lese car, taxes, finances, and legal challenges to be sorted.  It will be good to get back along the Maas, back among my things, again.

Friday, April 10, 2015

First light

DSC00177 (1300x847)A couple of new arrivals in Dorset today – a cardiologist from Turin, Italy (the local cooking moves up another notch), and a replacement camera for the venerable HX9V.  I’d wanted to reward myself using a bit of my Cambridge teaching fee, and had been studying the alternatives for a month with a friend, well versed in photography (and also Italian).  John Lewis had a fabulous sale on the unit I wanted over Easter, so the Click and Collect was done.

The a5100 is an interchangeable-lens camera, shy of being a full mirrorless DSLR. It has a lot of opportunities for manual control that my old point-and-shoot lacked, and much better lenses and processing. 

The improvement is obvious: old on the left, new on the right.

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So far, I like the way it picks up the effects of mist and light in the distance, the sharp detail, and the warm vivid colours.  It will take a lot of time studying the manual and completing my course to really use it well, but I’m looking forward to upgrading my game.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cambridge Six-One

DSC00050‘not the Oxford - Cambridge race result, but the university as my venue for marking another year passed.  The only requirement was that the day be set aside as special, spent with people rather than work, and doing a few things that enrich life rather than defining it.

DSC00058So, Cambridge it was, with warm spring sunshine and gardens and trees flowering along the River Cam.  There were many lovely thoughts from friends across the span of years begat loomed on social media, reminding me of the people, experiences, and ideas that shaped the first cycle of my life.

Now one year into being a sexagenarian, the day was spent (and, with a new camera, liveblogged) as... 

DSC00012The Orchard the start: buttered scones, strong coffee, and limpid beach chairs amidst flowering cherry trees.


DSC00040 (1300x839)Midday walking the Colleges and bridges, and a 1:28 pm toast (8:28 am est ) with Cointreau to the official start of sixty-one.

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Afternoon, a narrow-boat cruise aboard Rosie, plying the Cam downstream from Jesus Locks.  (Ironically, my real-life relocation specialist Rosie checked in by messenger during the cruise).

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Drinks at the Eagle, dinner at the Cau, and reflections at Wolfson over craft beers fills the evening.

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I still feel vital and engaged, not at all at the threshold of senior years.  It’s a lucky state of affairs, I know.  Lucky, too, to share it together.

DSC00104‘and, to close the circle,  the 70th staging of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race will be held on April 11.

‘Bet on the baby blues..

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Recognizing Old Souls

Nighy - Skylight

The theatrical drama Skylight has moved to the US, bringing Bill Nighy and spaghetti bolognaise to Broadway.   The story describes a the meeting, after three years, of two former lovers.  Their prior relationship ended badly, and the night’s drama explores a possible rekindling. Love, clearly, but also so much that separates them, observes the Times.

I’m intrigued by Bill Nighy, who I used to think could only play  poignant burn-outs in light comedies like Love Actually and The Boat that Rocked.  I saw more depth in him during the Marigold Hotel films and subsequent interviews, though. and I would love to see him fill this stage role.

Then I began to wonder if he was an Old Soul.

Old souls are wise beyond their years:  they have seen and done much, travelled far and met many types of people. These wide experiences build understandingImage result for nighy skylight and compassion, a calm affect beneath a world-weary gaze.

Some believe more literally that Old Souls live through a sequence of lives rather than places, their immaterial identity passing from one body to another over eons.  The journey grants wise insight and observant calm, finding peace beyond material things.

Spirituality aside, there are Old Soul qualities that psychologists list: thoughtful, reflective, mature, separate in their ways.  They draw in strangers easily and listen with empathy and understanding.  They savor life’s quieter moments,seeking periods of introspective separation from the ‘real world’.

beadsI’ve known the type.  Their lives are composed as a series of disconnected vignettes, each characterized by its own location, job, friends and relationship.  Every few years, one life is set aside, and another takes its place.  Yet the individual beads fit when joined as a necklace.

I think of the expats I know, their beliefs and perspectives shaped by the places they’ve lived, the varieties of human happiness and pain they’ve met.

I know post-docs and deep thinkers who’ve built reputations and networks out of their skills and friendships across many commissions.

I’ve met many with personal stories of deep love and loss, who never succumb to infatuation or cynicism but search for what’s good and true in everyone that they meet.  (‘and some advice on loving Old Souls)

The Old Souls are always easy to spot at academic conventions and expat gatherings: they relax in a small circle of people, sharing stories and experiences, swapping advice and ideas for their next journey.  They know their gifts and share them easily, so they are always relaxed, insightful companions to have along the road or starting a project.

Image result for nighy skylightThere’s a suggestion that Nighy is simply a louche: Disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.

I got briefly mistaken for someone who might be good in bed, which was very, very good.

I prefer to hope that there is a good reflection of the man inside the parts they play:

One of my great regrets, and I don't have many, is that I spent too long putting people's status and reputation ahead of their more important qualities. I learned far too late in life that a long list of letters after someone's name is no guarantee of compassion, kindness, humour, all the far more relevant stuff.  Bill Nighy

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sometimes, I like Weymouth

DSC02222 (1300x975)Conversation fell quiet as all three Welshmen bent over their phones, tapping intently around the table.  Beyond, it was all chatter and laughter amidst multicoloured glasses of beer along the harbour entrance.  Lithe singers bobbed to pop standards above on the big screen.

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Send us your photos!  exhorted the announcer, a mix of #hashtags and social media sites supported.  I installed and registered Snapchat, linked to the festival site, and uploaded pictures of friends and couples.  Fifteen minutes, and there we were, smiling benevolently over the throng.

And with that, it became a competition: boys and tech and a little pride.

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The first festival of the summer! mis-proclaimed the Quayside Music Festival alongside the river Wey.  DSC02140 (1300x975)No matter.  It was a sunny day, Jurassic craft beer in all its varieties (dark to darker) flowed freely, and the music evoked happy youthful memories.  Weymouth is usually regarded as a poor sister of Bournemouth and Christchurch, well to the east, but the working waterfront was a nice accompaniment to the festival. 

DSC02196 (1300x975)A Last Supper sand sculpture had been constructed as a nod to the holiday, but people were otherwise drawn to boats, beaches, and pulled-pork buns.

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I worked on creating a Faces of Weymouth collage, trickier than it seems.  One face or many, the unique or the typical, the worn or the innocent, boats or beers.

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DSC02152 (1300x1098)Everyone kicked back and  beamed as they succeeded in getting their own pictures posted above the crowd.  A toast to tech-savvy and masculine can-do-it-iveness…

Sometimes, I do like Weymouth.