No World Wars In Western European Since 1945 = Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1993, I was living in Belgium and the Maastricht Treaty  (aka the Treaty on European Union) was taking effect.  It was all over the news…and I didn’t understand any of it.  I asked and a lovely Belgian friend explained it to me.   Before I tell you when they told me, lets detour to quick history lesson.   This is a list of just some of the battles that have the battles that have taken place on Belgian soil:

 

  • World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five.  The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the  Battle of the Lys,  and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres.  Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium.  Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature.  Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common.  Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either.  Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
  • When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium.  Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
  • Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany.  If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa).  Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter).  The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops.  It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender.  Although I have heard that  ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.

You get the idea.  If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.

My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again.  At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war.  I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis.  When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil.  As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.

You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence).  Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.

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Top Ten Reasons Why We Aren’t Going To The Olympics

Citizens can compete as athletes for the Unite...

We like to watch the Olympics.  When my sister and I were kids, we used to pretend to be Mary Lou Retton.  She (my sister, not Mary Lou) asked me if we were going to the Olympics and was surprised when I told her we weren’t.  Here’s why:

1. Crowds.  I hate them.  I can’t see anything.  Being short, my face is usually in someone’s armpit.  If someone is going to be trampled, it will probably be me.  The more personal space I have, the better.  Plus, London is such a great city that I want to experience it.  I don’t want to spend it waiting in line.

Olympic Games Message

Olympic Games Message (Photo credit: chooyutshing)

2. The marketing.  Brands pay tens of millions of dollars to be associated with the Olympics and use its values to burnish their own.  While not a reason to avoid the games, it isn’t exactly a selling point for me.  I guess I can’t blame them though.  Ask Greece if they would have liked to have had more corporate money?

3. I’m turned off by news stories about the greed that surrounds it.  For example, landlords are evicting tenants in east London from their homes in trying to cash in on the Olympics.

4. HDTV.

5. The prices.  London isn’t cheap.  When they jack up their prices higher than Swiss prices…

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic f...

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic flag.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Tickets aren’t easy to get, especially for some of the sports that I’d really want to see.  Heck, you have to buy a ticket just to visit the Olympic Park.  We didn’t apply in the initial balloting process so we would have to get lucky to get some at the general sale.  If we had to resort to other means to get tickets, I would probably gasp at the prices.  Just yesterday, Volodymyr Gerashchenko, the general secretary of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee, resigned after being filmed offering tickets for sale.  It’s a crime to sell Olympic tickets on the black market.

7. He works… a lot.  He probably couldn’t take the time off.

8. There are so many other wonderful places to visit.  It’s not as though we won’t have anything else cool to do.

9. The London games and their “legacy” has been so hyped that it seems impossible to live up to it.

Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 at the 200...

10. Doping.  My disappointment was enormous after I learned of Marion Jones‘ steroid use.  I don’t know how the games can stay one step ahead.  Wondering whether the person who is killing it and ends up on the medal stand will later test positive takes some of the excitement out of it.

We’ll be heading back to London…after the Olympics.  We love the city and there’s still tons more to see and do.

The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland

Courtesy of the BBC

After a bit of research I determined that they celebrate April Fool’s Day in Switzerland.  Although it isn’t a holiday like Swiss National Day, St. Bartholomew’s Day, EscalandeFasnacht or Tschaggatta, so government offices and schools are open (or would be if it fell on a weekday), they do play practical jokes.   I hope you forgive me for my last post on the southern Switzerland’s spaghetti harvest, it was a bit of an April Fool’s Day joke.  Sorry.

One of the most famous April Fool’s Day Jokes involves Switzerland…in a way.  The British news show, Panorama, broadcast a three-minute news segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland on April 1, 1957.   The previous post was the story verbatim.  People swallowed it hook, line and sinker.   It generated an enormous response and became one of the most popular April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time.

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I thought I would explain how they came up with the idea and managed to pull it off so successfully.  The spaghetti harvest prank was the brainchild of Charles de Jaeger, a cameraman for the BBC and jokester.  Growing up, one of his teachers told the class, “boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.”   How could he not turn that into a joke on film?  He pitched the idea to several bosses over the years with no success.

In the 1950’s, Panorama was the BBC’s leading news program with ten million viewers.  It aired every Monday night.  When de Jaeger realized that April Fool’s Day fell on Monday night, he shared his idea with the writer David Wheeler who loved it.  They convinced Panorama’s editor, Michael Peacock, to produce the segment (with a budget of only £100).  Peacock agreed, but insisted it be kept a secret, fearing the BBC would veto the project.

When they went to Switzerland to film the segment, it was cold, misty and trees hadn’t blossomed.  They traveled to temperate Lake Lugano in Italian Switzerland where there were evergreen Laurel trees.  They hired some local girls in their national costume string 20 pounds of uncooked spaghetti from trees at a hotel in Castiglione.  He filmed climbing ladders carrying wicker baskets, filling them with spaghetti, and laying it out dry in the sun.  He also filmed his actors eating a spaghetti feast.  The footage was then edited into a three-minute segment with background music.

At the end of Panaroma’s April 1st broadcast, the show’s highly respected, eminently dignified and solemn anchor, Richard Dimbleby, introduced the segment, adding the necessary gravitas.  He made a great straight man, without cracking a smile started the report with “And now from wine to food. We end Panorama tonight with a special report from the Swiss Alps.”  They then showed the prepared footage.  At the end, Dimbleby closed the program with, “Now we say goodnight, on this first day of April,” emphasizing “this first day of April.”

The BBC immediately began receiving calls about the segment.  Some were complaints about such frivolity on a news program, some were to settle arguments about the origins of spaghetti,  and still others were inquires about where viewers could purchase their own spaghetti bush.

The hoax worked for several reasons:

  • Richard Dimbleby was so distinguished, authoritative, and revered that people took everything he said as true.
  • At the time, spaghetti was not a widely eaten in Britain.  When it was, it was it often came from tins. It was a foreign dish, an exotic delicacy.
  • It was pre-internet, encyclopedia Britannica didn’t even mention spaghetti and so it was hard to research and/or verify the origins of spaghetti.

Even the head of the BBC Ian Jacob, fell victim to the scheme.  Nevertheless, like much of the British public, he was a big fan of the hoax.   It became legendary and Johnny Carson even rebroadcast it.  You can see it for yourself by clicking this link to YouTube.

In case you were wondering, to start your own spaghetti tree, place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.

Bumper Spaghetti Harvest In Southern (Italian) Switzerland

This year has been a great year for spaghetti.   The success of the this year’s crop was attributed to a strong freeze followed by a mild winter south of the Alps and to the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.

Courtesy of BBC

In Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower at least a fortnight earlier than usual.

Courtesy of BBC

But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? Well, it is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well. Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.

The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.

Courtesy of BBC

Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.

Courtesy of BBC

Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depradations have caused much concern in the past.

After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who suceeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.

Courtesy of BBC

Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is, of course, spaghetti — picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti.

This story is verbatim from the BBC.  Thanks. BBC.

I Made The Queen Of Sweden Smile…And Met Camilla Parker-Bowles

We weren’t the only bigwigs in Sweden last week.  Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles (the Duchess of Cornwall) were also visiting.  I caught a glimpse of a fancy motorcade on the way to a museum.  A local told me that it was probably for Prince Charles who was in town visiting the King and Queen.

I was walking through Gamala Stan and saw him come out and sign a couple of autographs on the way from one palace building to another.

The next day, we were on the way to the Vasa Museum when a fancy motorcade sped past.   We were hoping that they weren’t headed to the same place because we didn’t want delays.  We were able to enter the museum when it opened and began touring it.  It is awesome!  So impressive.

We were asked to step back by some guards to make a path for King Carl of Sweden, Queen  Silvia of Sweden, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to pass. We stepped back and I got the camera ready.  I was able to snap a couple of pics before they got too close (I didn’t want to blind them).  The King and Queen stood back, letting Charles and Camilla work the crowd.  I caught the Queen’s eye, smiled at her, gave her the thumbs up and whispered “great country.”  She cracked a smile.  We had a moment.

Camilla came up to me and asked me where I was from.  I told her that I was from the states, but lived in Geneva.  We chatted about the impressive ship and the well-curated museum.  She asked if I was enjoying my time in Stockholm.  I said “immensely, it’s a wonderful place, but you have a very nice country as well.  We had a fantastic time there.”  She smiled and wished me a nice trip.

Surprisingly, she did not invite me to tea later.  Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising…I’d just eaten smoked salmon and downed a couple of cups of coffee.

 

Our New Language…English (Or At Least Our New Vocabulary)

courtesy of Wallace and Gromit

Usually when we learn new words, they are inappropriate ones on other languages.  Sometimes we try to be polite travelers and learn words like “hello”, “goodbye”, “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you” and “cheers”.

Courtesy of photo pod and Picture Britain

In an effort to understand and fit in with other speakers here, he has worked on his English vocabulary.  Yep, that’s right.  English.  In truth, he’s been working on British English.

with the loo

New words he likes to use:

  • Banger = sausage, used in the phrase bangers and mash (meaning sausage and hash browns)
  • Chaps = they are not the pant covers cowboys wear, but are instead a couple of guys (sounds better when uttered by Michael Caine)
  • Cheerio = Goodbye
  • Fancy = exhibiting a fondness for something, liking someone or something
  • Flat = Apartment
  • Governor = a colloquial expression for boss
  • Loo = Bathroom
  • Quid = a unit of money equal to one pound (+/- $2)
  • Proper = used as an intensifier
  • Posh = fancy, upper crust

My Favorites include:

  • Carry on = literal, but not used as much in the US
  • Keen = Eager
  • Knickers = Underwear
  • Jolly = an adjective meaning very, as in jolly good fun
  • Peckish = Slightly hungry, in the mood for a snack
  • Toilet = Restroom, they do not say restroom because you don’t rest in there.  Likewise, they don’t use bathroom unless there is a bath in the room.

Courtesy of Take Me Out

Unfortunately for our IQ’s, we have watched some British reality TV.  It’s so bad it’s good.  Don’t judge.  It has provided us with some new words:

  • Chips = French Fries
  • Chippie/Chippy = a takeaway restaurant that sells fish and chips (see above)
  • Chat up = Hit on
  • Cooker = Stove
  • Fringe = Bangs (the part of the hairstyle, not the verb)
  • Gutted = disappointed and upset
  • Redundant = Laid off
  • Slap = Slang for makeup

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Thanks to the large number of British Gangster movies, we were already familiar with some of them.  Here are a couple of British phrases that needed no translation due to our excessive viewings of movies like: Layer Cake, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Gangster No.1, Green Street Hooligans, The Bank Job and Eastern Promises.

  • Blokes = Guys
  • Bloody = a mildly vulgar word used to express anger, shock or for emphasis (For obvious reasons, we are only listing quasi-appropriate slang here.  For the other stuff, you will have to come here and ask him)
  • Caravan = RV/motor home
  • Cheers = an expression gratitude or parting, not just toasting
  • Pissed = Drunk
  • Sort = to deal with, as in “don’t worry, it will all get sorted out.”
  • Tart = slang for a less than respectable woman
  • Tarted up = made up to go out but looking slightly less than respectable

Courtesy learn-english-esl-resources-com

Here’s are some other differences between British and American English:

  • Bancock Belly = Montezuma’s Revenge
  • Biscuit = Cookie
  • Boot = Trunk
  • Bin = Breadbox
  • Braces = Suspenders
  • Buggy = Stroller
  • Bunk = to play hooky
  • Callbox/Telephone Box = Telephone Booth
  • Closet = any small room

    Courtesy of aie.edu.vn

  • Diary = Personal calendar, not someplace where you write the juiciest gossip
  • Flyover = Overpass
  • Footpath = Sidewalk
  • Garden = Yard
  • Hamper = a basket for food, used in terms like picnic hamper and Christmas hamper
  • Hire = Rent
  • Hood = the top of a convertible car
  • Jumper = Tank top
  • Lead = Dog’s leash
  • Lift = Elevator
  • Lolly = Popsicle

    Courtesy of aim.edu.vn

  • Mackintosh = Raincoat
  • Mate = Friend
  • Mum = Mom
  • Nappy = Diaper
  • Plaster = Band-Aid
  • Pudding = A heavy dessert or main course, not just a creamy dessert
  • Quite = a term of agreement use to express reluctant agreement or disbelief; more like “not quite”, “not really”, “sort of, but not very”, or “hardly at all”.  Apparently, it must be uttered in an aloof, pretentious, manner so I don’t plan on using it anytime soon.
  • Rubbish = Trash Queuing = Waiting In Line
  • Rubber = Eraser
  • Skip = Dumpster
  • Spots = Pimples
  • Stand = to run for office
  • Straightaway = Immediately
  • Suspenders = since they use the term braces instead, suspenders mean garters.
  • Torch = Flashlight
  • Trolley = Cart
  • Tube = The London Subway
  • Underground = Subway
  • Waistcoat = Vest
  • Wagon = Freight car on a railroad
  • Wash up = to clean after eating food
  • Winker = slang for a turn signal

courtesy of en.islcollective.com

Should you wish to further educate yourself, here is the link to the British Dialect Translator or the Dictionary of English Slang and Colloquialism (UK version).

We Minded The Gap And The Rest Of How We Got Around London

The fastest way to get from Heathrow* into the city is by train (15 minutes to Paddington Station).

Of course, we then took the Underground (London’s name for its subway system) to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and had to hop into a one of these to actually find the hotel.

Had to take a picture of this taxi because it had one of the guys from Top Gear on it.

London’s Underground is famous and a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right.  London limits where cars can go, so it is also the fastest way to get around the city.

This is the gap.  We minded it.

Mind The Gap

One evening, we took a boat ride down the Thames.  It was a great way to see the city and on the London Transport Boat, which was surprisingly cheap.

Just about the only public transport we missed riding was one of these red double-decker busses.

*I like Swiss Airlines (especially when it is cheaper than EasyJet) because they always give you free chocolate.

You’re welcome

 

We Lost Our Heads At The Tower Of London

The Tower of London is an impressive set of buildings with a storied history.

They also have a lot of interesting stuff in there like the crown jewels (including the world’s two largest diamonds).  Here are some of the more things we found interesting…

Kings and queens put their names on everything…including drainpipes.
A catapult.  Cool.
They have a changing of the guard, in other words you can watch the shift change.

They have ravens because of a “legend” that the tower will stand as long as they are there.  Ironically, the legend appeared when the tourists did.

We were surprised that we got to see spots (plural as there was more than one) where kings were murdered.

 

We laughed because Henry VIII’s armor got progressively larger over the years.  The first set was made for a fit man.  The second set was clearly larger.  The next set was Shreck-sized.  He, um, made other parts of the armor larger too.  I know, it’s more than a little disturbing.
Deeply disturbing, no question about it

Some of the armor was tiny.  This one was made for a three-year old.   They must have been more coordinated than I was at three.

He found the loo.

Bedazzled guns.  The sign says it was ordered from a jeweler and never picked up.  The jeweler turned it in.

There was also a gold plated revolver that was used in an infamous murder and a gold plated sub machine gun.  Was the orderer killed?  Incarcerated?  Deported?

There was a dragon made from weapons.  Check out the claws… they are made from old guns with wooden handles.

In the gift shop, they had a mug that when filled with hot liquid, Henry VIII’s wives disappeared.  Creative.

This marks the spot where Henry VIII’s wives were executed (Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey).

I got into trouble with the beefeaters.
Name someone else who else has a Yeoman Gaoler these days?

I’m still not sure why this hand is in the wall.  Please send me a note if you do.

 

Movies Filmed In London

Avi:                     Eighty-six carats.
Rosebud:           Where?
Avi:                     London.

Rosebud:           London?
Avi:                     London.
Avi’s Colleague: London?
Avi:                     Yes, London.  You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse
                           weather, Mary ____ Poppins… LONDON. (from Snatch)
Willis Group Building Trinity Square was in Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. It was the mansion of villainous Manfred Powell.
Westminster Bridge was eerily deserted in 28 Days Later.
[09.jpg]
Whitehall from Trafalgar to Parliament appeared in V for Vendetta.
The stunning Millennium Bridge has been featured in tons of movies including: Harry Potter And The Half Blood PriceBridget Jones Diary, and Love Actually.
Tower Bridge is easily recognizable in:  Sweeney Todd,  Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and from about ten million other things.
The London Eye was seen in Run Fatboy RunWimbledonFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Love Actually.
The Silver Surfer rides the London Eye
30 St. Mary Axe (dubbed The Gherkin for its resemblance to a pickle) was in Match Point and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
The Admiralty Arch (situated close to Trafalgar Square) was the heavily guarded checkpoint passed by Clive Owen in Children Of Men.
You saw Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in Love Actually.
Of course, the Tower of London was featured in The Tudors.
The Royal Court’s of Justice were in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Usually, I like to watch movies set in the destination before a trip.  Given that our tech system is not fully functional, we didn’t do that this time.  Before we go back to London, we will definitely rewatch some of the above films.




Padlocks of Love – “Luccheti d’Amore”

When we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, we walked across the Brygge Broen, a bicycle and pedestrain only bridge.  When I saw these locks, I had to stop and look. I’d read a story about padlocks from the Pont de l’Archevêché on the Seine in Paris. They disappeared in the middle of the night after the city of Paris said they were concerned about their effects on their architectural heritage. People were upset over their disappearance and the locks “magically” reappeared.
Although this custom has allegedly been around since before WWI, it has become much more widespread. An Italian book that was made into a movie Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) was released in 2006 featured the “Luccheti d’Amore”. In Italy, the movie became like Twilight in the U.S. increasing the padlock’s popularity. As the locations for and numbers of padlocks have risen, their notariety has grown. They are now widespread and getting media attention. Some are even listed in travel guides.

Other places where this occurrs include:

Some people decorate or write on theirs.  50 years!  Everyone should be so lucky.I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.