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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Photo Book

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 12: 11 Hour ‘Til L.A.

We flew back home on Tuesday, September 6.

We left the Corinthia in the morning and got a ride to the airport from our friend Graham, saving us a lot of hassle with luggage on the Tube and a lot of money if we had taken a taxi. When we got to the airport, we tried to be a little smarter than we had been when we left, and told Mikey we’d have a snack in the lounge before getting on the airplane. Understanding that that was the way it was done and one didn’t jump onto the airplane upon arriving at the airport, Mikey was fine with it.

We try to make new mistakes, not old ones.

Business class on British Airways is worth every penny (though, of course, we were upgraded, so that’s easy to say). Our seats reclined fully into beds, and we drank champagne for 10 hours, which are two elements which rather well go together. One poor lady in sartorial hijab, who we took to be a nanny, was in charge of five under-5s, also in business class. Every once in a while, one of them would pass by us, and strike a pose before she came through to sweep him up. By about the half way point of the flight, at least one, and usually two of them were sobbing, and the woman looked like she was about to join them. We looked at Mikey, contentedly watching Rio or Kung Fu Panda 2 on his seat’s monitor, and were very grateful.

Airline travel, no matter the class, is claustrophobic and dull. Eventually, if you’re me, you sit on a sandwich. Drinks end up in your lap. Things go in your hair, God knows what. That’s on your own. Add to that a 2-year-old, and you get a whole hell of a lot messier. 10 hours later, you’re ready to go.

I asked Mikey when we were finally getting off, “Did you have fun on the plane?”

“Yes,” He said enthusiastically. “We go again on the plane.”

“Okay,” I nodded. “We’ll go again on a plane to visit Grandpa and Grandma at Thanksgiving, okay?”

“Okay … Is that today?”

We’re not a typical family: one British (Ian’s passed his citizenship test, but hasn’t been sworn in yet), two Americans; same-sex parents, adoptive child; white parents, biracial child. We have a domestic partnership in California which is recognized in Europe, but not the United States. We have a legal birth certificate that we carry with us, which says that by some miracle, Ian and I are Mom and Dad (I’m the Mom). When we asked for our customs form, we were told one per family, but we didn’t know what that meant. We considered ourselves a family, and so did California, where we were landing, and Europe, where we were coming from.

It turns out that we needed two, but we didn’t get that information until we were in front of the customs agent, an hour after landing, after Mikey had learned that if he repeats the word “Bodato, bodato, bodato” (which we assume was a combination of “bidet” and “potato”) over and over again, he can finally make me turn all the colors of the rainbow.

Despite our aggravation, we got our luggage, and came up the ramp at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, where a long line of people were holding signs, waiting for their foreign relatives and friends to arrive. Mikey had already decided that he needed to push his stroller at that point, and I was next to him, trying to help keep him from pushing into walls and the folks around him.

Suddenly, Mikey noticed all the people behind the barriers on the other side of the ramp, and he began waving at them. It took a second, but soon practically everyone began waving back, and some were clapping, as if greeting a film star. Mikey kept smiling and waving to the crowd, welcoming him back to Los Angeles and home.

“That’s the future President of the United States!” someone shouted from the crowd.

I swear.

Seemed like the perfect end to our first trip abroad, this spectacular welcome home.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 11: Fun With Cubism & Him Got No Head

Gentle reader will notice we’ve steered clear of culture in our wanderings through two world capitols. This wasn’t merely because of our creeping philistinism or a belief that Mikey couldn’t handle a museum – though, when we passed the Louvre on our arrival in Paris, Mikey literally passed out. It was nap time, to be fair, and we were in a gently rumbling cab.

In plotting the trip, I had multiple itineraries, and some of which included museums. In Paris, I noted the location and a possible day to visit the Musée de Rodin sculpture garden, the Picasso museum in the Marais , the Centre Pompidou, and even – based on Amanda Kaiserman’s recommendation – the Musée de la Chasse, which is a museum of taxidermy … which might’ve been too creepy for even me. In London, I had the British Museum, the Museum of Childhood in the East End, and the V & A, which is supposed to be very child-friendly. We never made it to any of those places, and I blame the good weather for that. For the most part, we wanted to be outside.

On the last day in London, however, we were meeting our friend Helen, her mother, and her daughters, and they told us to go to the Tate Modern in the south bank. Mikey, of course, wanted to go by Tube, and we didn’t really know where we were going so we wound up there a bit early.

It’s a spectacularly cavernous space, and upon entering, I thought Mikey might be tempted to see whether it echoed with the same booming clamor as he was able to create in the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion in his hometown museum, LACMA. Instead, we headed up to the top floor which is called the “Under 5s Zone,” a “creative, physical and sensory exploration of themes inspired by Cubist artworks.” A neat idea, a playground interpreting work by Georges Braque and Juan Gris: to Mikey, it was a slide, a maze, and a climbing wall. And, as luck would have it, Helen and her family had also arrived early, and so Mikey had Lily and Lulu, two older little girls to explore it with.

We had lunch in Café 2, sensibly located on the 2nd level, and then we all walked across the Millennium Footbridge over the Thames, from the Tate Modern to St Paul's Cathedral.

There were the usual buskers in front of the Cathedral, including a man in a suit, whose hat was evidently floating above his open collar.

“Mikey, look at that funny man,” I said to Mikey, who was oblivious, chasing Lily and Lulu around.

He looked and he stared, and then he screamed, “HIM GOT NO HEAD!”

This was not an amusing illusion to a 2-year-old. It took a few minutes to calm him down. For weeks after, if we made any reference to someone bonking or hurting their head, Mikey would whisper, “Like him in London?”

When Mikey had settled down, we said our goodbyes, and were off to meet our friends Sarah and Craig at the Mandarin Oriental. By the time we settled for drinks and food in the Bar Boulud, Mikey was stretched out on the banquette, sound asleep. God knows what his dreams were like.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 10: The Tiger, The Eye, & The Social Butterfly

The Corinthia is a wonderful, stylish hotel with all the mod cons and then some, and it really can’t be beat for geographical convenience, right on the river at the Millennium Bridge, next to the Embankment Tube station. It’s also right down the street from the Strand and the Vaudeville Theatre, where we were set to go see Mikey’s first West End play, “The Tiger Who Came To Tea.”

It was the last day of Kids’ Week in the West End, which for 14 years has been dedicated to making theater more family-friendly, offering free or discounted tickets for children, special workshops, and other events. This particular play was the only one in the Under 5 set that fit in our schedule.

The play is based on a famous book by Judith Kerr, which I hadn’t read, and I considered whether we should get it for Mikey before the play. Instead, we decided to prompt discussions with Mikey about what he thought the tiger was like – nice or scary or somewhere in between? We all decided that we sure hoped he wouldn’t turn out to be very scary. Ian and I hoped the same for the audience of Under 5s.

Everyone’s first play in London should be in the precipitous nose-bleed section, in a chair perched on an incline that challenged your balance, and Mikey’s seat certainly qualified. For a pound, we rented a pair of binoculars, but I don’t think Mikey ever agreed to look in the end with the smaller lenses.

Mikey squirmed a bit from lap to chair to lap, but when the play began, he was absolutely mesmerized for 55 minutes. He shouted “tick tock” with all the other kids when the cast signaled they were changing the clock, he laughed when the silly daddy tried to put his shoes in the toaster, and he and every other child in the audience flew into the air with fear and excitement when the tiger made his appearance.

If you haven’t read “The Tiger Who Came To Tea,” forgive this spoiler, but, basically, the tiger eats everything. The little girl and her family still hope that he’ll come back, and buy a big tin of Tiger Food if he does, but Mikey decided that “The tiger wasn’t nice.”

“Why not?”

“He didn’t share,” Mikey explained. But he still loved the play, and wanted to go back. Over the next couple of days in London, he continued to ask where the tiger was now.

We met up with our pal Teresa who was in London, working on a movie. It had begun to rain lightly, so we borrowed an umbrella from the front desk and headed across Millennium Bridge towards the London Eye, which Mikey called the Big Wheel.
Another activity perfectly suited for a toddler, letting him run from one end of the glass box and shout out, “Hi Big Ben! Hi boat!”

Back down in the rain, we caught a taxicab to the home of our friends Peter and Gary, in Islington near Sadler’s Wells, the dance theater. Mikey fell asleep in the cab, and we laid him down on the sofa in their living room, giving the four of us an opportunity to catch up. When Gary served the traditional Sunday roast with all the fixings including Yorkshire pudding, Mikey woke up and joined us. He ate everything, and when the time came for dessert, Gary offered him the choice between two of his favorite things: “Ice cream or pie?”

“I would liiiiike,” he considered the options, and then perhaps his mind went back to Madame A. at the Hotel Crillon. “I would liiiike the … boiled egg, please!”

Gary accommodated our eccentric child, so Mikey had a boiled egg while the rest of us had sweets.

That night we met up Teresa again, and had another friend to introduce Mikey to, Bettina, at the bar at the Corinthia. Mikey was at his flirtiest best while we drank and chatted, and the staff insisted on bringing him some chocolate cream lollipops to spoil him a little more.

Because clearly, that’s what he needed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 9: Conspicuous Consumption & The Healing Power of Spicy Soup

Honestly, traveling by train is as stressful as traveling by plane. There’s still customs, and immigration, and there’s a childkin running around your ankles and he loses the ticket you gave him to play with, and you think that Club 3 means Car 3, until you get to Car 3, and you suddenly realize no, you’re in Car 12, and you start running, running, running with baggage banging around behind you and holding Mikey’s hand until he wants you to pick him up, and then alors, there you are, in your little nook of four chairs facing each other across the table and you start ordering wine, and you don’t stop until you reach London.

All that said, train travel is jolly. You can look out for farm animals, and unlike slower forms of transport, if you miss them, then more will be right ‘round the corner in about two minutes. And, again, the food on Eurostar compared to any plane is really good. Mikey ate all of his and then half of mine.

When we got to St. Pancras, we caught a taxi to the Soho Hotel to pick up the bags we left behind, and then on to our next hotel, the Corinthia. It had only been open a few months, but our taxi driver said in his opinion, it was the best hotel in London.

We checked in and went to our room, which wasn’t a suite, but had plenty of space for Mikey’s bed and lots of fruit and other snacks laid out. After we made a few phone calls, confirming plans for the next couple of days, we realized it was just us three. No fabulous friends to meet up with. Ian knew that he wanted to go to a restaurant called Bangkok for dinner, but it was up to me to plan what we would do in the hours up to that.

The first time I went to London, almost 20 years ago, I went for business and spent almost the entire time in a convention center (sorry, centre) in Islington. I managed to get out, and twice I caught a cab to a place I needed to go: once, to the Tower of London, and the second time, to Harrod’s.

With Mikey, we went easy and opted for Harrod’s. Next time, the Tower for sure.

Harrod’s is supremely depressing. Even when you go with a 2-year-old, and head straight to the 4th floor, where the pet store is, and you spend time checking out every puppy and kitten there. Even then. The rest of it is the most vulgar of merchandising to make the fair maidens of Beverly Hills blush. There is nothing without a designer label. Nothing for a 2-year-old to be excited about under 50 quid. And the elbowing and shoving to get to this shit which will be outgrown in no time makes one weep for western culture. And eastern and southern culture too, because it wasn’t just blond-haired blue-eyed folks doing the grabbing.

Mikey was obviously fine amid our angst. He’s pick up something, and if it was too horrible, which it always was, we’d say, “Look at that! Wow, what a thing. Let’s put it back now, because it doesn’t belong to us, right?”

It worked!

The boy was so good, we took him to a Waitrose (which is a sort of mini-mart) in South Kensington, where we let him grab whatever he liked and we bought it for him, like we wouldn’t do at Harrod’s. He was perfectly happy, particularly when he spotted a 6 pack of “Scotch Pancakes.”

“Are those pancakes with Scotch in them?” I asked Ian.

“They’re like American pancakes,” Ian assured me. “Little to no whiskey in them.”

Mikey loved them, and that’s most of what he ate when we went to Bangkok, the restaurant which made Ian remember life in London when he first moved there in the 70s. He was a punk, a dressing horse for Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, swathed in bondage outfits with a huge purple Mohawk. Bangkok was there at the time, with a delicious, burning, sinus-clearing soup, which was good then and good now.

“Picy!” Mikey said, and he was right.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 8: Jardin d’Acclimation

On our last full day in Paris, we went to the Bois du Boulogne to the Jardin d’Acclimation. An amusement park which has been charming children since Napoleon III opened it 150 years ago, it promised to have the ponies which had been so elusive to us. Even if the horses were in the south of France vacationing with their friends from the Jardin du Luxembourg, we figured it was a good excuse to take the Métro somewhere. Mikey may be a city boy, but public transportation is exotic to a child of Los Angeles. They’re all trains to him, and they’re all Thomas the Tank Engine.

When we got to the Jardin, we found we just missed the in-park train which runs every 20 minutes, but Mikey immediately found the ponies – in this case, the mechanical ponies which take you on a very bumpy ride. I rode along with him twice, and then he said he was ready to go on his own. Unfortunately, the rules were that solo riders had to be 5 or older. This unfair, ageist policy triggered one of the very few melt-down tantrums of the trip.

Ian finally showed him what three was on his hand, for three years ago which he would be in a week. Then he showed him what five was on his hand.

“When you’re that many fingers old, we’ll come back and you can ride the pony by yourself.”

“Okay,” Mikey sniffed.

And then we were off, on a boat ride, over vents that blasted mist, round a merry-go-round, into a hall of mirrors, and on Mikey’s first roller coaster which only scared him when the car went very fast through a dark tunnel. We spotted llamas and donkeys, and then lo and behold, ponies. At last, Mikey got his pony ride.

By then, it was mid-day, and the boy was tired. Too tired to even complain when he found out he was also too young to go on a trampoline. I think he was relieved. Minutes later, he was curled up in his stroller, and minutes after that, we were on the Avenue Charles du Gaulle, having wine in a café.

While Mikey slept, we took the Métro back to the 1st and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and spent a few hours shopping.

Mikey woke up when we got to our hotel in time to dress to meet our friend Richard and Roberto, who live in a gorgeous apartment in the 9th near the Opéra. I’ve unfortunately forgotten the name of the restaurant they took us to, which was pure old Paris, a series of candlelit chambers, where Mikey ate rabbit.

Occasionally, in between the courses, when we were tired of sitting, we went outside into the dark streets of Paris to jump in mud puddles and say bon soir to strangers.

Like you do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day 7: Jardin du Luxembourg, Shopping, Snails, and Mikey Plays Boules

The night before, we talked to Amanda about child friendly restaurants in Paris. By child friendly, I don’t mean places where enormous mice riding skateboards serve pizza, I just meant cafes where Mikey could get up from the table and run around from time to time, brasseries that weren’t perched on the edge of busy roads. The perfect place occurred to her while we were sitting at Cremerie – Restaurant Polidor: we needed to go Café Paul. The food was excellent, but more to the point, it was located on the periphery of a quiet trafficless square called the Place Dauphin in the quiet island where Paris was born in the middle of the Seine between the banks, the Île de la Cité.

So we had a second date with Amanda scheduled.

In the morning, though, we packed up from the Hotel du Danube, and left our bags – including our expensive puppies – in the lobby, while we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg. We knew they had a playground and a pony carousel, and when we told Mikey, he couldn’t wait. After a few minutes of searching the typically French, gorgeous, well-organized grounds, we found among the chestnut trees, the carousel, but no ponies. At the grounds to the playground were the ominous words, “Les poneys sont absents pour une durée indéterminé.” Uh oh, time for a distraction from disappointment!

Fortunately, the playground proved to be diverting not only to Mikey, but to us as well. Mikey was certainly the only child wearing a tee-shirt and jeans – all the French children played in the sand and fell off slides into the dirt in the hautest of finery and frippery. We got to drink nuclear espresso, that what the French call “café” out of whisper thin plastic cups which melted in our hands, and watch the nannies and their charges. And we got to learn that regardless of culture and language, playground push-fests and melt-downs are universal.

We took a taxi back to our hotel on the left bank to collect our luggage and then moved across to the Hotel Daniel on the right bank. As comfortable and friendly as the Hotel du Danube had been, the Hotel Daniel was even more so, and the junior suite was just what we required. We had lunch in the restaurant with Marie Segal, a fabulous PR agent and an old friend from Ian’s misspent youth, and then we felt it was time to give the right bank shopping some equal time.

Fortunately, Mikey crashed in his stroller mid-way to the Galeries Lafayette, so we were able to shop just for ourselves, all up and down the Boulevard Haussmann. It was very necessary because we packed light, and after seven days, two pairs of pants are not enough. Especially when you have had a 2-year-old, frequently one who is eating or needs a diaper change, on your lap 50% of the day.

The kid slept so soundly, we were even able to investigate the Bordeauxtheque in the Galeries Lafayette, where fabled vintages are displayed like modern relics in black plexiglass in a hushed, cathedral like atmosphere.

Mikey did not wake up until we were at home, post-shower, with new clothes on, drinking our new wine, ready to head out to meet Amanda. Of course, he was a little predictably tetchy, and difficult to motivate, so we were about a half an hour late. Fortunately, Amanda had some entertainment, watching the boules players and the Tai Chi in front of the white marble Palais de Justice.

Dinner was great, and Mikey had his first snails, which he loved (garlic and butter, what's not to love?) though that wasn’t quite enough to distract him. While I caught up with Amanda, Ian took Mikey out in the square, where he interrupted a group of exceptionally attractive French teens playing a game of boules.

Mikey charmed them, and they showed him how to play.

“Is he having a good time in Paris?” one of the young ladies asked Ian, after everyone survived Mikey hurling a two pound metal sphere this way and that.

“He loves Paris.”

“And Paris is honored to have him.”

Yes, it was a bit of Gallic hyperbole, but really, truly, what’s wrong with that?