Diddakoi Walt Whitman
Take me home...St Emilion  kay@diddakoi.com

Updated: 02/07/06

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by Neal Stephenson



Tuesday, 07 February, 2006

I missed the opening fluff of the Superbowl on Sunday as I was driving over to Chez Trauma at the time. I understand that they invited past Superbowl MVPs for a pregame ceremony honoring them, and the loudest cheers were for Lynn Swann.

This is to be expected. After all, Swann won his MVP while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and, Hello? Steelers fans were all over the Superbowl, Terrible Towels a-swinging. Little wonder that they gave him a hero's welcome.

But Hugh Hewitt has pointed out that Lynn Swann's reception was actually a nightmare for one person. You see, Lynn Swann is running for Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - as a Republican.

The Worst Superbowl Moment?

Had to be Ed Rendell's [Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania] when he saw Lynn Swann run on to Ford Field with other past Superbowl MVPs. Swann got a thundering reception from the pro-Steelers crowd. Let's see --tired, old party hack versus fresh face superstar with charisma. Rendell's got a money advantage, but Swann is already pulling ahead in the polling.

It is the Arnold effect --someone new, someone not defined by the battles of the past dozen years. Unlike Arnold, Swann's also liked by the GOP base.

The Hewitt story is via Captain's Quarters, who notes:

Swann's been charging past Rendell in the polls for some time, and the Steeler victory certainly won't hurt the former Pittsburgh great in his run against Rendell for the governor's seat. Swann will also help Rick Santorum campaign in the Philadelphia area where he faces some tough numbers. So far, Santorum has a hard task ahead of him, but with Swann gracefully ascending over Rendell, he may be able to ride that momentum for a victory as well. The two of them in combination may even make the Keystone State go red in 2008, a feat the Republicans nearly accomplished in 2004.

[There's hope for us Keystonians yet.]

Cousin Ron politely observed that Gary and I apparently drank 269 bottles of wine in the past ten days, based on the cork count. Alas, that is not the case - no pun intended. So despite my repeated attempts to procrasinate the London trip details, here you go:

Saturday, January 28/Sunday, January 29
Puttered around most of the day, then Gary took me to the airport. I was flying US Airways to Gatwick out of Philly. Normally, I would have gone with Virgin out of Newark, but I was travelling with my boss, John, so decided to go with the local operation.

Met up with John in the lounge. Not exactly the nicest international Business-class departure lounge I've been in, although at least they didn't charge you for food or drinks as they do in Continental's lounge in Newark. Definitely not Virgin, with their rolling trolley of fresh sushi and other hors d'oeuvres and glasses of champagne. Oh well. We boarded - the flight was maybe half full. The seats were nice enough, although I couldn't stretch out completely flat. They fed us dinner - not bad - and I took a sleeping pill, put on my eyeshades and went to sleep.

And woke up. And went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep. Hmmm, I wonder why? Maybe the constant turbulence all the way across the Atlantic. Possibly the worst flight to London I've had, bumpiness-wise. At any rate, we arrived, got our bags and took the train from Gatwick to Victoria Station, and then cabbed to the hotel.

We were staying at a Renaissance/Marriott that one of the clients had recommended. Normally I stay at the Duke's Hotel, near St. James Palace, which is small and quaint and typically English, and I was a bit put off that we were staying elsewhere. The Renaissance is about halfway between the Dukes and the financial district where we would be going every morning, so it's location was definitely a plus. We checked in and headed up to our rooms.

I had a lovely room, quite large, with a great bathroom. I unpacked, and had just finished hanging up my clothes when the front desk called to say that they had made a mistake and would I please move out of the room tomorrow? I grumbled a bit, and then she said the magic word: "upgrade." I took a shower, got cleaned up and went downstairs to meet our clients - Scott, Gary and Jim - for lunch.

They had flown Saturday during the day and arrived around 9:30 Saturday night. We all had lunch at the hotel and then caught a cab to St. Paul's where we met our guide for a two-hour walking tour of "Shakespeare's and Dicken's London."

Fast forward two hours and twenty minutes later. In retrospect, it was enjoyable but would have been better if it were a) an hour shorter and b) fifteen degrees warmer. It was really cold, and that whole standing around on cobblestones in thinly soled shoes just is NOT that much fun. Seriously. He actually took pity on us at one point - I think our lips were turning blue - and took us into a hopital waiting room to thaw out a bit. Convenient, should any of us actually have frostbite, I suppose. After the tour, we went back to the hotel - by taxi! - to rest up a bit before dinner. We met our London brokers at a nearby seafood place, J. Sheekey - quite nice - and then retired.

Monday, January 30
Up a little ahead of time, which I have found puts me in a better frame of mind for the day, even with the jet lag. I repacked my bags and left them in the room, then dropped off my key at the front desk before meeting downstairs for breakfast, then off to meetings.

[Blah, blah, blah.]

Back to the hotel, and went up to my new room. Very nice, even larger than the first, although the old bathroom was nicer. We met for a drink, then to dinner at a nice French resturant, Le Palais du Jardin, where we added a few corks to the project reserves. We taught the infamous cork trick to those at the table that did not know it - great fun.

Tuesday, January 31
Breakfast, meetings, lunch, meetings and then we were done. John and one of the clients decided to go back to the hotel, while I took the others to a local pub when our meetings were finished. We had arranged to meet for drinks with our London brokers at Vertigo, the bar atop the Nat West building. Great views, but it was a tad hazy.

Dinner was at Rhodes Twenty-Four in the same building. I had been to this resturant in the fall with my broker friends and another client. That evening we ended up being the only people left in the place, teaching the cork trick to the two sommeliers (Thierry and Fabian) who also provided me with a couple dozen corks.

Prior to this trip, Martin, one of our brokers, called the restaurant and told the sommeliers that I would be coming back. When we walked in, both came up and greeted me and presented me with a big box of corks! When I counted, there were 230 of them - heh.

Dinner was fun - probably even more relaxed since we were done with most of the meetings. When we left, I told the sommeliers that I would be back in April - they offered to start saving now. I said I'd call a week or so in advance, since I only had one suitcase.

Wednesday, February 1
Only a handful of meetings today, and those were light. We finished up at 1:00 and bade farewell to the clients who were continuing on with other business. I met up with Andrew ("The Big Fish") and Tim ("Captain Rocky") who I've know forever and we had a great lunch to celebrate Andrew's 35th anniversary of starting work for the company. After that, I met Michael, one of our other brokers and did a little recon on a prospect we've been working on. Before I knew it, it was time to meet Paul, Ian and Jaimie for dinner. We went to a cute country French restaurant - very nice - and had a fun evening. By that time, I was exhausted!

Thursday, February 2
If there's a groundhog in England, he didn't see his shadow. Probably because of the snow flurries. Wicked cold still. I got up, finished packing and headed to Victoria Station/Gatwick. U.S Airways does have a nice lounge at Gatwick and I had some breakfast and coffee while waiting to board. We were buckled in - another half-full flight - and pulled back from the gate when the pilot came on to say were had a ground-stop for an hour. Then the snow flurries started.

Luckily, we did get off in an hour, and it was a fairly relaxed flight. A little lunch, a couple of movies (Wedding Crashers, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, half of War of the Worlds), a little nap and we were there. Actually ahead of schedule despite our delay on the ground in London.



[Only 8,110 more needed for our wine cellar wall.]

Quote du jour:

"INCUMBENT, n. A person of the liveliest interest to the outcumbents."

Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914) US journalist, short-story writer

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