Monday, December 31, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #460] Good riddance

Not sure how 2012 went for everyone, but I know I won't be sad to see the backside of it.  A lot of good things happened this year, but not a moment felt carefree and happy; it's been dispiriting and exhausting and I am ready for it to be done.

But as hard as it's been, it'd've been endlessly harder without the friends and family who've reached out with kindness and caring.  And to all of you, thank you for that.

I hope you all have (or had, for my antipodes) a great New Year's Eve.  Fortunately, Russ is visiting and will be doing his darnedest to help me ring in a better 2013, or at least to drown out 2012.  

And with that, as my friend Alan put it: "Die, 2012, die! I will dance on your grave tonight."

Cheers,
Shaun

________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | At large in Naperville, IL | www.nocirc.org

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #459] Coley Christmas Chaos

Christmas with the Coley clan has been great; typical chaos has ensued, but somehow it all came together.  We were a little sad because Mom had three great days leading up to Christmas Eve day, but yesterday and today haven't been as good (but much, much better than the bad days before her good triad; we're never sure what each morning will bring).

Lara, Lisa, Alberto and Mihalis made a fantastic Christmas dinner, ham and turkey, myriad sides, and Aunt Judy made her famous sunshine cake.  I've realised Christmas Eve is the best  day of the year when you have small children as it's the only night they want to go to sleep early.  We closed out the night with plenty of peace and quiet, and several hands of cards.

So a very nice holiday here in the Western suburbs of Chicago.  Russ is coming out for the weekend and NYE (look out, Chicago!), so the festivities will continue!

Cheers,
Shaun



Me and my cousin Janine getting things started.



The Coleys (and a sneaky grand daughter...).



Mom's twin, Aunt Judy, and Mama.



The whole clan!



Me  smiling - someone must've just offered me wine!

________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | At large in Naperville, IL | www.nocirc.org

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #458] Aldwych

A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I embarked on what Richard called "the equivalent of going to Buckingham Palace for transport geeks": a tour of the disused Aldwych (né Strand) Station.  Aldwych was the Southern terminus of a short shuttle train that ran from Holborn to the Strand/Aldwych, and was the bastard stepchild of the planned tube routes and the ones that eventually emerged.  As this route can comfortably be walked in under ten minutes, it has always been more an expensive dedication to a plan than a useful transport link.

The station was in use until the mid-90s, when it retired and took on a more successful second career as a training centre, model for other station layout testing, and movie set (V for Vedetta amongst the recent examples).  The end came when a lift needed to be replaced and a £3m pricetag was attached to the project.  As the ridership was around 400 people/day at the time, the shutters were drawn on one of London's obscurest urban idiosyncrasies.

The six of us duly oohed and ahed at the disheveled station, the original wooden ticket booths, fading posters, sections of test tile; we chatted with other like-minded Londoners and tourists alike, all smiling and inexplicably happy in the way a kid is on Christmas day; we posed for pics, took pics for others; pontificated about the overground extension to Clapham completing the overground circular and other transport successes and follies -- and all the while it never escaped us that we'd each just spent £20 to look at a tube station.  Money well spent.

Cheers,
Shaun




An old tube map, showing the Aldwych appendage.



The lift that brought the demise.



Old tube posters.



My favourite of the old tube posters - I think people still haven't gotten the message, at least at Bank.




Appropriate.



Jim, me, Richard, James, Alexi and Javier in our glory.



Me surveying the older platform.



Way out.

________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | At large in Naperville, IL | www.nocirc.org

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #457] Return to Naperville

Advent has brought me back to the Midwest.  I've agreed an arrangement with my manager to work remotely from here for a while to be by Mom for the holidays and after, as needed.

I arrived on Tuesday, after a two-day layover in New York to renew my driver's license, to a much-deteriorated Mom than I left a month ago.  When I saw her last, she was thin and walked slowly, but was good overall.  She's now so weak she needs help any time she moves.  We're getting ready to relocate her to the main floor of the house so she won't have to go up and down stairs anymore.  But by far the worst thing is the pain.  The cancer has spread everywhere; Mom has tumours all over her body - arms, legs, buttocks - everywhere.  One in her arm is pressing on a nerve, which causes her terrible pain any time she moves her arm, so much she screams out sometimes.  We have to be so delicate with every move with her, the slightest pressure causes her agony.  It's like moving delicate glass.

We're working with the hospice doctor to find the right combination and rotation of methadone, morphine and ibuprofen to mitigate the pain; some days it works, other days, like today, it doesn't.  And that's been the hardest thing - seeing my Mom crying from pain and not being able to do anything about it.  It's so awful.

There was a thought that I would return to London at the start of January for a few weeks if Mom were doing well, and then come back here later.  But she's too bad already, so I will be staying here into the new year.  I have some friends who'll be visiting the area over the coming weeks, so have myriad punctuations in my schedule to look forward to and distract me.  And Trader Joe's are doing a roaring trade in red wine with the Coley family.

But despite all the negatives, of course I am so glad to be here.  Our family haven't done Christmas all together in I don't know how many years, and it's really nice to be here all together. Stressful, at times horrible, but mostly nice.

Cheers,
Shaun


________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | At large in Naperville, IL | www.nocirc.org

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #456] New York, interrupted

Well, I'm about to head back to America, so thought I should write a little something about my last trip there, just a few weeks ago.

I planned this trip about six months ago: five days in Chicagoland to see Mom and family, a long weekend with Natasha and Mike McGirr in their new home, Asheville, NC, and then nine days in New York, a long overdue reunion with Manhattan and my friends, leading up to a wedding, and then working a few days in the New York office.

It didn't quite turn out like that, though.  Shortly before arriving, I got bad news from my sisters that Mom's taken a turn for the worse.  She'd had a scan and her tumours had grown and she was a lot weaker.  She's off her strict diet and ready to go to all her old favourite haunts,  so the timbre of the visit was very different than when planned.  We did have some really good times though; went to my Mom's favourite steakhouse, had awesome Chicago style pizza, White Fence Farm chicken (well, I had Taco Bell that night - we all have our guilty pleasures! [That's a lie - I feel no guilt.]), late nights playing cards and boozing, lazy afternoons trying to put together Mom's impossible puzzles.

Next in the grand tour was Asheville - my third time in the South (Florida doesn't count - it's its own sort of evil).  It was an awesome weekend for so many reasons.  Most obviously was Natasha & Mike, who I hadn't seen in a long time, and who laid out the red carpet and cruise directing.  From start to finish, we moved from one perfect spot to the next - drinks, food, views and gay bars.  Asheville is quite a gem, too: it's liberal, Democratic, gay-friendly, organic-local-foodie, beer heaven, laid back, walkable, pretty.  It belongs in Northern California more than North Carolina, but that foible of geography means that you can enjoy all the good of the Napa Valley lifestyle without the pretence or crushing expense.  We went to so many great restaurants, but still we walked by so many others I'd like to try, and I'd go back anytime.  If I were a small city guy, it'd be an ideal place to call home.

New York came on the back of Sandy and just before a nor'easter.  (That bitch knows how to welcome you back.)  Due to the downed L, housing had to be rearranged and my friends Niels and & John stepped up and let me stay at their place.  The first night followed tradition, a gaggle of gays (and Rachel) at Pongsri Thai, and the next day Obama smacked Romney down.  But as great as it was, my mind was still in Naperville.  So the next day, after talking to my sisters and hearing Mom had some bad days, I bought tickets and headed out of the Big Apple and back to the Midwestern plains to spend more time with Mom.

And I'll be heading back to Naperville a week from Sunday to stay with the family some more.  I'll be there at the very least to the new year, but indefinitely, depending on how things go.  I am very lucky that work's letting me work remotely from there, despite the fact that I can't possibly work full London hours.  They even offered a leave of absence, but my bank manager declined on my behalf.  But I can be there as long as I need to be, and just not having to worry about that is great.

Cheers from London, for the last time for a bit,
Shaun



Mom and her monster steak at Jack Gibbons.  It was an awesome place - straight out of the 20s, I expected Al Capone to walk through the door.  Loved it!



Mike, Natasha and me on the bank of the French Broad (the river that runs through Asheville).



The Grove Park Inn - one of two competing Gilded Age masterpieces in the area.  Unfortunately, didn't get to see Biltmore; but I'll be back.



Asheville from the Grove Park Inn.  A bit hazy in this pic, but it's nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.



Asheville's turned its once derelict riverfront into the River Arts District, full of studios, galleries, restaurants, bars and hippies.



This pic tells you just the kind of place Asheville is (the only pic that would have been better would have been of a white guy with dreadlocks).



Asheville's very own flatiron building.



A typical cute street in Asheville's very walkable downtown.


Old piano and piano garage door on Chicken Alley.



9/11 Memorial looking towards the WFC and the new One World Trade Center.  After a decade of wrangling and heartache, I think they've done a really good job.



Look at me being a tourist!  In New York!



My old home!  278 W. 19th St.  Rent-stabilised at $950/month for a one-bedroom.  One reason I could never move back: I'll never get that kind of deal again.


____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #455] Bratislava

A few weeks ago, one of my most regular travel companions, Mary Keany, and I took another trip together.  This time our destination was Eastern Europe (i.e., behind the old Iron Curtain - don't get snippy with me, "Central" Europeans) to Bratislava.  Within the Soviet satellite state, Bratislava was the second city of Czechoslovakia.  However, after the conjoined twins were separated, Bratislava became the preeminent and capital city of newly independent Slovakia.

I was always interested in Bratislava because it sits so close to the border of Austria, you can see into it.  Much like the fantasy in my mind of East Berliners peering into a strange world they couldn't enter, Bratislava spreads tantalisingly across the river that should separate Slovakia from The West; an iron thorn in the West's rump.

Overshadowed by Prague in the region, Bratislava did not become known to Brits until RyanAir opened a route there, allowing the masses of hens and stags who'd had their first does in Dublin the ability to celebrate their second/third/fourth marriages somewhere a little more exotic.  Though a local taxi driver complained the prices have risen to Vienna levels (Vienna is just a short ride up the Danube), it was very affordable on the pound (even though they're in the eurozone - who knew?!), and the city seems to have managed the influx of low-end tourists quite well.

Bratislava turned out to be really, really nice.  I didn't know too much about it - just had heard it was "pretty".  But I've been to plenty of pretty and disappointing cities.  It's not somewhere for a massive gaycation, but it's a proper city for a good time with a friend.  The city is walkable and charming, big enough to keep you engaged, but small enough to get the feel of over a weekender.  Crucially, everyone speaks English and, thankfully, everyone we encountered was friendly.  The food was good, veggie-friendly, and wine very reasonably priced.  Add in a camp gay bar and viable gay club, and you've got yourself all the ingredients for a good weekend away.

Cheers from Naperville during some rare quiet time,
Shaun




Our hotel had a photography conference on the same weekend we were there.  I found this one the most... erm, interesting.



MK with the classic Bratislava view.



Bratislava's main street in the old town.  It's lined with restaurants, bars and cafés.  Though they of course cater to the hen/stags, they are not charmless or overpriced.



Mary and I found this charming: the Slovaks, realistic about their geography, provide blankets in addition to heat lamps for their outdoor space.



The main square.



On one end of the New Bridge is the "UFO Tower", which of course I was immediately drawn to.



Once inside you can see the Soviet-era blocks spreading out from the city centre (new shopping mall to the fore).  Just beyond the blocks is Austria.  In fact, a lot of what you can see from the tower is Austria.



Old Town from the UFO Tower.  An interesting anecdote is the highway driving down the middle of the city, passing immediately in front of Bratislava's main church.  The Soviets did this purposely to show their disdain for religion.  They also paved over the former Jewish quarter to build this highway.




This is either a mural to the glory of the proletariat or an example of pre-internet gay porn, not sure which.




Me at one of the many street cafés; this is how Mary found me most of the weekend.



Map showing how Bratislava abuts the former Iron Curtain.  Light pink shading shows the city limits; where it lines up with the dark grey line on its left, that is the border with Austria (oddly not following the Danube as it it does in most of the region).


____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Friday, November 09, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #454] Naperville redux

Hi all,

Just thought I would send a quick update.

I am currently nearing the end of a two-week trip to America.  Original plan was to see Mama and the family for about a week, then some friends in Asheville for a long weekend, then New York for a week for visits, a wedding of Rahul's friend, and working from the New York office for a few days.  

First part worked out, but the last bit has had to be altered.  After a few days in New York, I spoke with my sisters to see how things were, and Mom had had some hard days, especially on the day I had called.  So I truncated New York, which means I will miss the wedding, and have come back to Naperville to see Mom some more on this leg of the trip.

Back to New York on Sunday and then London on the 13th.  Planning on coming back for 2-3 weeks in December.

Those who know Mama and would like to call/say hello, she doesn't check eMail very often anymore, so it's best to call her @ 630-995-3198.

More details on the rest of the trip and Bratislava from a couple weeks ago soon, but for now just wanted to let everyone know what's up.

Cheers,
Shaun

____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #453] Thanks for the Warm-Up

Apologies on the last TLOS about "Architecture's Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to Be Swans"; I meant to send that to my other group, which is for people who like receiving those sorts of things I come across.  Sorry if you felt spammed.


I've been sad, but not totally surprised, to hear that the Paralympics have not been getting much air time or press in many parts of the world.  Here in the UK, they have been nearly as big as the Olympics.  Perhaps it's because the Paralympics started in London and so were "coming home", but for the first time ever, all the events of the Paralympics games have sold out.  In fact, it was just as impossible to get tickets to these games as the main games.  The opening ceremonies were lavish and start-studded (Stephen Hawking!), as will be tonight's closing ceremonies.  I'm very proud of Britain for being as interested in and enthusiastic about the Paralympics as the Olympics; it should be that way everywhere, and I hope Rio will build on London's example.

The most amazing event I saw was blind football.  I had no idea it existed (or was even possible), so I was blown away when I saw it on TV.  It sounds cheesy, but seeing these blind guys running around the pitch, playing full-on football, I really felt small.  I don't know the backstory to any of the players, but just seeing what they were doing, and on an Olympic level, was humbling.  I have total respect.

The ad campaign for the Paralympics was inspired.  As the main games began, signs were put up all over the UK to promote the Paralympics, and they simply read "Thanks for the warm-up."  And on TV was this ad, whose starting point is meant to be the closing ceremonies of the Olympic games.  Brilliant.  

I will leave you now as I am heading up to Mary Keany's place to watch the closing ceremonies and, as she has a view of the Olympic stadium, the fireworks.

Shame about the blackout abroad - you've missed a great show.

Cheers,
Shaun







____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #451] London Town

In the past several weekends, Rahul and I have taken to exploring London.  It's amazing how much energy you have on a weekend day when you're not out until 4:00!

Today's destination was a dive deep into the depths of hipsterhood, Frank's Café atop the Peckham multistorey carpark.  Like so many misjudged shopping centre schemes around the UK, this one is blighted, little used and crying out for redevelopment.  So into this empty space has stepped a (very "modern") art space and café.  Below are some pics from our jaunt SotR.

We also had a gathering Friday night to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies.  I loved them, but know there's some disagreement and/or ambivalence for some, especially regarding the giant baby head.  I didn't get the giant baby head either.  Perhaps that section would've made more sense if I'd read all the books they were referencing.

I was afraid they might try to out-show Beijing, which would've been a massive fail. But they focused on what Britain has, its history, and all the influence it's had on modern culture. And I loved they threw humour into it.

All in all it makes up for the Olympic logo being Lisa Simpson giving a blowjob. Almost.

But whatever you thought of the ceremony, if you were based in the US, check out this link:


NBC edited out one of the nicest moments of the event, a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London, which happened the day after London was awarded the 2012 games (and just one month before I moved here).  I have no idea what they were thinking, but they've supplied a statement that they were tailoring their editing for an American audience.  Apparently, Americans know nothing about the scourge of terrorism.

Seeing empty seats in gymnastics on the TV has annoyed me, but still love the games being here.  And seems most Londoners do, too.  Londoners are great at pretending to hate their city, while secretly loving it.  That façade's torn away a bit right now as we bask in the global spotlight (where, despite our complaints and naysaying, is where we all believe we belong).  I know it's temporary, so I am enjoying it while it's here.

Proud Londoner,
Shaun



Rye Lane, one of Peckaham's high streets.  Peckham is an African and Afro-Caribbean majority neighbourhood.




The Peckhamplex, with its multistorey carpark behind.



And, yes, the gallery and café were literally on the top floors of the carpark.



A bit of early 80s memorabilia.


The "sculpture" gallery.



Frank's Café, at the top of the carpark.



The view from Frank's is stunning, though!



We had a rare London thunderstorm while dining - St. Paul's and the Shard became silhouettes across the Thames.



But it cleared up quickly, so one more gratuitous shot for the Londonistas out there.


____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #450] A plug, or, something to entice

Most of you probably know that I've been a keen Bill Bryson fan since happenstance led me to find one of his books, "Neither Here Nor There", on a shelf in my sister's chambre de bonne in Paris.  In the nearly two decades since that chance meeting, I've read and often reread everything he's published.  I've introduced him to many people, sometimes more successfully than others.  I'll admit freely his more recent works are more mature than the first ones, but I matured along with his writing, and I love them all as they are.

Below is an excerpt I've just reread, the introduction from "A Short History of Nearly Everything".  Even if you've no intention on delving into the Bryson oeuvre, these nine paragraphs capture a lot of the amazement that there is in just being us.  No pressure to read, but hope you enjoy it if you do.  If not, I know a cave with great algae on its walls.

Cheers,
Shaun




A Short History of Nearly Everything (Introduction)

Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.

Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you-indeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.) Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single overarching impulse: to keep you you.

The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting-fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes past, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will shut you down, silently disassemble, and go off to be other things. And that's it for you.

Still, you may rejoice that it happens at all. Generally speaking in the universe it doesn't, so far as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere. Whatever else it may be, at the level of chemistry life is curiously mundane: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulfur, a light dusting of other very ordinary elements-nothing you wouldn't find in any ordinary drugstore-and that's all you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you. That is of course the miracle of life.

Whether or not atoms make life in other corners of the universe, they make plenty else; indeed, they make everything else. Without them there would be no water or air or rocks, no stars and planets, no distant gassy clouds or swirling nebulae or any of the other things that make the universe so usefully material. Atoms are so numerous and necessary that we easily overlook that they needn't actually exist at all. There is no law that requires the universe to fill itself with small particles of matter or to produce light and gravity and the other physical properties on which our existence hinges. There needn't actually be a universe at all. For the longest time there wasn't. There were no atoms and no universe for them to float about in. There was nothing-nothing at all anywhere.

So thank goodness for atoms. But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on Earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living thing that have existed since the dawn of time, most-99.99 percent-are no longer around. Life on Earth, you see, is not only brief but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.

The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself-shape, size, color, species affiliation, everything-and to do so repeatedly. That's much easier said than done, because the process of change is random. To get from "protoplasmal primordial atomic globule" (as the Gilbert and Sullivan song put it) to sentient upright modern human has required you to mutate new traits over and over in a precisely timely manner for an exceedingly long while. So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts, and you might now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walrus-like on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for a mouthful of delicious sandworms.

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely-make that miraculously-fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result-eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly-in you.

____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #449] Berlin macht immer Spaß!

I went to Berlin the weekend before Norway with Rahul and his friend, Brent, who is visiting from Australia.  No need to gush over the continent's greatest city yet again, but just thought I'd share two pics from the weekend.

Also, to the surprise of many, we had two kick-ass vegan dinners while there, one at Kopps, and one at La Mano Verde (have the chocolate cake if you ever go - phenomenal!).  So contrarian to German stereotypes is my mistress.

Cheers,
Shaun



Only in Berlin: find you don't have that sling when you realise you need it?  Just have one delivered!




This was taken on my way to the airport Sunday morning; these three old men were waiting at the gated door to the bar for it to open, which it was just starting to do as I passed.  I think Berlin needs to move up my list of potential retirement locations!

____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #448] Update on Mama - Post Party

Hi all,

Several people have asked after Mom, so thought I'd send an update.

I went back over to America last month for my Mom's and her twin sister's birthday party.  Lara and Lisa put together an awesome party at an outdoor space in Peotone and, fantastically, surprised Mom by arranging for all her friends from her old volleyball team to show up to surprise her.  The surprise happened before I arrived, but everyone said it was really touching and Mom was over the moon.

The party Lara and Lisa put together was perfect, despite cool weather.  In addition to the volleyball team, friends and family came in from literally all over the world to see Mom.  We had food and drinks, followed by drinks and drinks, gossip and storytelling, and a great montage of photographs and newspaper clippings from when the ladies played volleyball and their years immediately after.  Mom was so pleased and seemed emotionally and physically recharged afterwards.

Mom always said she wouldn't do chemo if she ever got cancer.  However, she decided to give it a go after her oncologist explained that newer chemo treatments aren't as harsh or taxing as the old.  So earlier in May, she had the first of six scheduled rounds of chemo, each separated by three weeks.  Despite the prediction of minimal side effects, Mom became very ill for several days and felt horrible.  As a result, she's decided not to pursue chemo, but will continue to stick to her healthy anti-cancer diet.  Between her first scan in January and pre-chemo scan last month, the tumours in her lungs didn't grow at all, so we're hoping the healthy lifestyle will keep Mom's body fighting the tumours.

I skype with her several times a week and she looks and sounds good, is active and feeling positive.  Lara, Lisa and the grandkids are around often, as well as Mom's sisters, Dar and Judy, Mom's "third daughter" Janine, and other rotating family members and friends, all of which keeps Mom busy and happy.

So all-in-all, she is doing well and we're, cliché, taking things day by day.  I'll be going back out this Summer and again in the Autumn.  I never thought I'd spend so much time in Manteno, Illinois!  <grin>  I'll continue to keep you posted, but for now, send Mom thoughts, love and positive vibes - and eMails, phone calls and visits don't hurt either.

Cheers,
Shaun





Mom (in her sassy blonde wig) and the other hell-raisers.

____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #447] Caveat emptor

This past weekend, my boyfriend, Rahul, and I took a long weekend away to the Saudi Arabia of Scandinavia, Norway.  With a population just under five million, and being the fifth largest oil exporter and third largest gas exporter in the world, there are plenty of petrodollars (or petrokroner, to be precise) floating around the economy, boosting wages and prices, both of which are heavily taxed, enriching anyone lucky enough to be Norwegian* and impoverishing anyone else foolish enough to go there.

The first thing anyone says when you tell them you're going to Norway is how expensive it is.  As a Londoner, you take the warning in stride.  And then you sit down at an average outside bar in this resource-rich country and order your first £10 ($16) pint of beer and officially and truly feel sticker shock.  It actually feels novel and a bit decadent, and you delight in the absurdity of it all.  But with each passing £7-10 ($11-16) pint and £90 ($140) dinner**, it grows tiresome.  Eventually, you're just not having a good time, despite all Norway's potential, because you feel like you're being ripped off constantly.

But you do get what you pay for.  Both of the cities we visited, the capital, Oslo, and Norway's second city, Bergen, were beautiful, clean and well-serviced by equally clean, efficient public services.  And a benefit to the high prices is that neither of these cities has been overtaken by stag and hen does.  The streets (heck, the bars!) are bereft of drunken Anglos and Eurotrash, despite their beguiling settings and being reachable by low-cost air carriers.

Oslo regularly ranks highly on the "Best Places to Live" list and it's easy to see why - it's pretty perfect on paper, and, with enough money, you could have a really nice life there (or in Bergen, which I preferred).  Unfortunately, for those of us who need a little grit and friction in our lives, you'd also have a very dull life there.  I will take the (less) overpriced maddening jumble that is London any day.  But it was nice to see -- once.

Yours in post-Norwegian poverty,
Shaun


*An anecdote that illustrates the Norwegian phenomenon: all rich countries attract migrants from poorer ones to service its key cities; rarely are the staff of restaurants firms native-born, for example.  In Norway, the poorer immigrants serving the diners at its restaurants are Swedish.

**Two curries, a shared appetiser and the cheapest bottle of white.


Oslo's main shopping street.


Oslo from the new opera house.


Me, counting the change and having a small seizure after paying for our first pints.


Typical Oslo streetscape.


Norway has not signed onto the whaling ban.


Vigeland Sculpture Park, a delightful (and free) diversion in Oslo.


The pinnacle at the centre of the park.


The Bergen Railway, connecting Oslo to Bergen, is called "Europe's greatest railway".  Although it lacked what I imagine is the sudden dramatic landscapes of a similar journey through the alps, it is a fairly consistently beautiful ride once you're a bit outside of Oslo.  The lands of Southern Norway, I have to say, reminded me very much of Alaska.


The city of Bergen is built between "seven mountains", providing a more dramatic setting.


Its streets are eminently beguiling (the exact streets that would swarm with tourists anywhere more economical).


Bergen was in the Hanseatic League and its portside buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage site.



____________________________________________________________________________________
Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK | www.nocirc.org
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