Five Centuries In Eight Photographs

Yesterday, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. For centuries, the fort was central in the town’s existence. Although it has changed hands by treaty several times, no attacker has ever taken it in battle.

That in mind, here is a history of that fort, and St. Augustine…. as, uh, illustrated and outlined, in chronological order, by some photographs:

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain's flag proudly flew over the town and fort for centuries. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain’s flag proudly flew over the fort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain's flag also looked too much like England's Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles a bit confusing. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed their flag. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain’s flag looked too much like England’s Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles difficult. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed theirs. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans.... [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans…. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bit of a history lesson. In pictures. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz to follow. ;-)

Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
________

UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”

Happy Hour

After a dinner out on Thursday evening, we decided to have a couple of drinks in a Cocoa Beach bar that was also attached to our hotel. As we walked in, I spotted several other couples sitting at the bar talking mostly to each other; and the bartender appeared personable enough. As we took bar stools, I thought, “Fine. This seems okay.”

Hmm. However, I had missed that one customer was a 30-something woman sitting by herself near the end of the bar, one empty seat over from the one I had just chosen. As my wife and I settled in, we noticed her son – who could not have been more than seven or eight – was with her, amusing himself at an unused pool table.

While we overheard her (it was impossible not to) increasingly emotionally bemoaning (I suppose reasonably enough) to a man the other side of the semi-circular bar about how she had lost all of her iPhone videos of her late mother, I ordered a Courvoisier. Beside me, my wife asked for a white wine. Having quickly scoped out what others were drinking, after the bartender stepped away to get our drinks my wife joked to me under her breath that he had probably not poured Courvoisier for anyone in ages.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Indeed he did appear to have served up largely beers. Obviously having heard me order it, after the bartender put the Courvoisier down in front of me, the 30-something woman asked me about it. As she did, she began to get exceedingly talkative and friendly.

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Within seconds it became clear she had had too much to drink already. My wife was sitting directly next to me, on the other side of me. Listening to the woman’s ramblings, I noticed my wife look down at the floor and start shaking her head.

Fortunately other customers strolled in, and the woman had a new bunch to distract her. Among that group was a 20-something guy who was apparently a newly minted soccer scholar. Amidst his World Cup bluster, he started regaling the bar about Argentina being the best soccer team in the world, and how John Brooks is the best player ever.

And that guy had only just started drinking. After hearing him hold forth for rather too long, my wife (who is English and usually restrained in her opinions) took hold of her wine glass, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “He’s an idiot.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

I hardly needed her to point that out, though. Suddenly the boozy 30-something woman called it a drinking session and offered a loud, slurry goodbye: “You are my favorite bartender!” She did not appear to be headed to a car, and the bartender seemed to know that. (My wife later told me she suspected the woman was a hotel guest.) Taking her son’s hand, she ambled out the door.

We finished our drinks. After we left, my wife remarked to me, “That place was such a pick-up joint. She didn’t care you were with me, or what your situation was.”

As I’ve reflected on that evening, I realize I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable in most U.S. bars. I never really relax in them. They are not like British pubs, which are often social places and serve meals.

True, pubs have their drunks, loudmouths, and those out “on the pull” too. But U.S. bars are often dimly lit, excessively cliquish, and devoted primarily to drinking and “escapism.” They may have a “happy hour,” yet more often than not they have struck me as sad places. :-(

Travels With Pets

It’s Sunday. After D-Day’s seriousness, we need a break. Let’s smile a bit. :-)

My mother-in-law loves to declare, “The French are so civilised. They love their dogs.” Indeed we notice there is much less fuss about our four legged friends there than we often see towards dogs in Britain and America.

“No Dogs Allowed” is a common sign in the U.S. and U.K. Even in rural areas in the U.S. – where there is not a person anywhere around for miles – often there’s that threatening sign, “Pets must be on a leash.” We know some dog owners can be irresponsible, but that’s the owner’s fault, not the dog’s.

Try scoping out a vacation home rental in the U.S. and asking the owner if you may bring your dog? Most will react to you as if you are carrying smallpox. In comparison, in France, while of course you do have to check in advance, and you may have to pay a little extra for the cleaning fee, holiday home owners have allowed our dog to stay without batting an eye.

Dino, in our holiday home in France, summer 2011. [Photo by me.]

Dino, in our holiday home in France, summer 2011. [Photo by me.]

In France, pets are also generally allowed in restaurants and eateries. So Dino, our springador (who stays with my in-laws in London when we’re in America), gets to join us. He curls up under our table, usually at my feet (I keep him on a lead, of course; he is a dog), and I pass him some morsels from my plate.

When he’s not partaking in the meal, he pretty much just lies there and observes the passing French scene. Or he snoozes. Often there are well-behaved French dogs at other tables. Regularly, a staffer, unprompted, has brought out a bowl of water for him.

Yes, so “civilised.” Or maybe simply much less uptight is a better description. In any case, I hate to admit it when my mother-in-law makes a good point. ;-)

* * *

Dino’s a conversational ice breaker in public too. Other people with dogs chat with you as another dog-owner. In France, usually it’s a surprise when someone discovers you’re a foreigner: if they don’t hear you speaking English (or bad French), they assume you are French if they see you accompanied by a dog.

I also remember once on a beach tossing stones for Dino to chase into the surf (he never catches them), and seeing out of the corner of my eye a group of young teens watching him running into the water and then back toward me repeatedly. (If I didn’t stop, he’d play that game until he would collapse from exhaustion.) Obviously hearing my speaking English to my wife as she sat a distance away, one lad approached and asked me in English, “May I pet your dog, sir?” Dino behaved like a star and clearly loved the attention.

Dino, on a French beach, summer 2011. [Photo by me.]

Dino, on a French beach, summer 2011. [Photo by me.]

Our pal’s biggest “doggie quirk,” however, is for some reason he does not like “high visibility” jackets. That, as you might imagine, can be a rather awkward issue in certain official situations.

Once, going to France, we were making our way through passport control heading to the Channel Tunnel’s car train. From the car, dutifully at the window I handed over our passports to the French border officer sitting in his booth. (French passport control is in England, so there is no need to deal with it as you drive off; and British passport control inbound is in France similarly pre-loading. As much as Americans hear Britain and France “hate” each other, and their discord is a source for humor, their two governments actually do work together well.)

Seeing my U.S. passport mixed in with the rest of our car’s U.K. ones, the officer greeted me pleasantly. But in the back of our Volvo estate, quiet most of the time and so well-behaved there I often forget he’s lying back there, Dino unexpectedly pressed his nose to the side window and suddenly started barking all bl-ody murder at the officer. We couldn’t get him to pipe down. I think at one point he even spun around in a 360 degree circle.

Uh, I’m thinking, this is not good. After a few seconds of such foreign canine carrying on, the officer smiled wryly at me and remarked in perfect English tinged with an obvious French accent, “Ah, but I see he doesn’t like policemen?”

I tried to make light of the whole thing, and replied that he just doesn’t like those jackets.

He handed me back the passports. We were all allowed into the country….

* * *

To take your dog back into the U.K., you have to bring him to a vet within a 48 hour window prior to travel to the U.K. The vet makes sure your dog takes a worming tablet and stamps his U.K. “pet passport” for re-entry on the British side. It’s a bit of a hassle: you have to find a vet and make an appointment that falls within that tight window. But most French vets within reach of the ferries and Chunnel seem to know “the British returning to the U.K. with their dogs” pet drill by now.

Dino's pet passport. Yes, really. [Photo by me, 2010.]

Dino’s pet passport. Yes, really. [Photo by me, 2010.]

On one visit, my wife went to give Dino the tablet. Despite repeated coaxing from her, as I recall he spat it out at least twice. He never does that; at home, he always takes what he’s given.

Watching, eventually the vet intervened. “You give it him, uh, the medication with the food?” he asked us in English. “Please, you allow me,” he smiled.

He took hold of Dino. He then opened Dino’s mouth and held it open with some secret vet trick. Finally, he shoved the pill down Dino’s gullet so far it seemed the vet had stuck his arm in all the way up to his elbow.

I know dogs don’t have facial expressions. Yet, afterwards, I swear Dino looked bemused. It was almost as if he was thinking, “Uh, what just happened?”

“There, it is finish,” the vet announced. “Ah, he’s a good doggie.” :-)

The Outsiders

The New York Times, being the New York Times:

Britain’s New Immigrants, From Romania and Bulgaria, Face Hostilities

I write “being the New York Times” because the piece chatters, but ultimately leads nowhere. It tells us nothing essentially new about the migration issue itself. Nor does it offer any suggestion of a way to diminish those “hostilities.”

In that article, Britain really could be any country; and Romanians and Bulgarians could be any newcomers arriving in any country. As Britain does (as every country does), Romania and Bulgaria have their borders…. and settlement laws and frontier guards empowered to decide who may enter. And most of those populaces would likely not be pleased about masses of British incomers deciding to cross “their line” and set up homes within their geographical area either.

Even though I have “permission,” I have always been self-conscious of the fact that in my working in Britain a native might not have a job. A Danish friend, married to an Englishman, and living in the U.K., has said similarly that she often reminds herself she is not British. Yet her brother-in-law is also British and married to her sister, and he is living and working now in Denmark.

Twenty-first century borders are far more formal than they have ever been, but human communities have always enforced boundaries. Whether it was an Ancient Greek “city-state” of a thousand souls setting itself apart from another similarly sized one just across a mountain, or today’s high-tech nation-state frontiers relying on biometric passports, we create them for a variety of reasons too complex and varied to begin to explore here. And, lest we forget, even within our modern countries there are uncountable gradations of “borders”: from province/ state, to county, to city, and so on, down through school catchment area all the way to, say, residents’-only street parking.

image

We humans have always been an “excluding” species. Because they are not “from, or of, here,” outsiders have always faced “hostilities” simply because they are outsiders. There is no reason to believe that will ever change.

Plane Courtesy

Back on Friday, we were on British Airways, which we almost always fly internationally (save for Ryanair). This flight was on a 777; that’s what BA uses to Newark (although they are supposed to be using Dreamliners too, I believe). I still don’t like that aircraft; but I will admit this one was a better cabin experience than many previous 777 flights. image The flight (in comparison to, uh, others) was relatively uneventful. One exception was finding ourselves upgraded to premium economy. The other was, less happily, discovering ourselves sitting behind a late twenties/ early thirties, American couple.

Yes, we all have our off moments. Still, this was all too much to have possibly been a mere series of coincidences. Please pardon me as I get this off my chest. ;-)

The male half of the couple was seemingly one of those people who “things just happen to.” Somehow he dislodged/ broke the plastic cover enveloping the outer leg of his aisle seat. Using his laptop, he almost sent a drink flying as well. The cabin service director at one point also announced that an iPhone had been found in a lavatory. Guess whose it was?

Sitting in front of me, his companion apparently inhabited her own, shall we say, “plane of reality.” She proceeded to recline her seat (in premium seats recline pretty far) for nearly the whole flight, including during meals. Yeh, why have perhaps an ounce of consideration for the person behind her? Indeed, did she even notice there was someone behind her?

More ridiculous, mid-flight, to reach her seat after having used the lavatory, of course he didn’t stand up and let her pass; she decided to climb over him. Naturally in grabbing the back of her seat to seek extra balance for this gymnastics move, she managed to shake and push back her already reclined seat even farther – so much so that it clipped and nearly knocked over an open bottle of water I had on my tray. I’d think nothing of behavior like that from an eight year old. But from an adult?

Twice her pillow also slid back to us after she’d gradually pushed it brainlessly between their seats. Once is an accident. After the second time, instead of shoving it back again between their seats, I just left it on the floor. She displayed no obvious interest, or concern, about it having vanished.

After landing, as we stood waiting to disembark, I glimpsed the dim-looking and self-absorbed expression on her face: it reminded me a little too much of a certain study abroad U.S. student who has been seen a great deal since late 2007. It all clicked. Suddenly, everything that had gone on before made more sense. ;-)

We’d met up in London a little more than a week earlier with an Alaska college friend of mine and his wife during their first visit to the British capital. Over lunch, he noted that he thought the people-watching is absolutely amazing. His wife (whom we did not know before then, and now do) agreed enthusiastically, and added that she couldn’t get over the incredible variety of shoes seen on the women. At that, my wife grinned and concurred with her wholeheartedly.

We may wish we could get to know some of those people we all “watch.” Then there are others we actually do encounter whom we really wish would keep their distance. And the more distantly, the damn better. :-)

When Americans Meet

Yesterday, I discussed romance at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. Today, we return to earth. Uh, “foreign” ground, to be specific.

Since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, oh, and John and Abigail Adams (geez, never leave out John Adams, or he goes volcanic), Americans in Europe have provided storylines in countless books and films. Tourists form one distinctive source. Expats another:

“You’re American, right?” she asked James.

He answered, “You’re an American, too.”

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

I’ve lived in Britain for over 15 years. I’ve run into Americans now and then. A few years’ back I read somewhere that there are around 250,000 non-military Americans residing in the United Kingdom, of whom some 100,000 live in London. (But please don’t quote me on that.)

When we bump into one another, of course we never quite know “who” we each are at first. I’ve always had the distinct impression we sort of eye each other up decidedly more than if we had met in the U.S. It’s as if we are trying to ascertain, “Who are you really? And why are you here too?”

Perhaps the major reason we may be rather wary of one another initially is because back at home we are sooooooo nastily divided politically. That often translates on this side of the water into meeting Americans who may be quicker to attack U.S. policies than even the most fault-finding, stereotypically “anti-American” of Europeans, while simultaneously also admiring Europe more than even many Europeans. I’ve also stumbled on the polar opposite: the expression “What’s that in real money?” may no longer be heard, but there are still Americans for whom the U.S. can do nearly no wrong and Europeans almost nothing right.

Myself, I’ve always been “careful” over here. Some right-wing Europeans think I’m rather conservative. Leftists often think I’m more left-wing than I am. Very good. Keep ‘em guessing….

But regardless fellow American let’s not draw swords on each other about whatever is bugging you about back home and wash our dirty laundry among these non-Americans listening to us because many of them have not been to the U.S. so are looking at us to provide them a first-hand glimpse into what our country is because their usual insight into life in the U.S. is through the media prism provided by the likes of the BBC and Le Monde. Oh, I should take a breath? You can tell I’m from New York originally? Buy you a drink, friend? ;-)

image

I also recall once meeting the proverbial “American in Paris.” Politics wasn’t his obvious interest; but a certain woman definitely was. Working there for a time, he had within weeks of arrival become infatuated with a French friend of mine whom he had met through mutual acquaintances. (Editor’s note: this was well before Robert met his future wife.)

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

“This is Robert,” she grabbed my arm, “my friend from in New York….”

Yep, that’s right, dude, I am from New York. And I’ve known her a lot longer than you. And you are, from, uh, some town in some state no one in this room’s ever heard of. ;-)

The intra-Yank “tension” bubbled hotly just below the surface. Moreover she had already also told me she was not interested in him “that way” anyway. “And he’s Protestant. I would not go with a Protestant,” my Catholic friend had made quite clear.

Thinking back on it, I would characterize the scene as akin to an awkward bit we might see in a Woody Allen film. At some point years after, I came to think nonsense like that might serve as a launching pad for a little literary endeavor of my own someday. Yep, Henry James, watch out. ;-)

Accents

Yesterday’s post was pretty serious. And maybe too heavy – even bordering on depressing. How about something lighter? :-)

A few years ago, I shared an office when I was working in a London college. Once I answered a colleague’s phone when she’d been away from her desk. On the other end was a woman she knew (but I didn’t) from another part of the university.

image

I chatted with the caller briefly, took a message (we always did that for each other), and thought nothing of it. When my colleague returned, I told her, and she proceeded to return the call. Perfectly routine.

After they’d exchanged greetings, from the other side of the room I heard several “uh, huhs” out of my officemate. I glanced at her. Grinning while speaking, she looked back at me as she remarked, “Oh, yes, he’s American.” There was a pause from her end of the conversation, followed by a renewed smile my way. She added, “Yes, he is. Sorry.”

When my officemate got off the phone moments later, she said, “She asked who was that who answered the phone? I told her, and she said she thought you had the sexiest accent and asked if you are married. I told her you are.”

I replied, jokingly, and hyper-exaggerating my American accent in the deepest – and handsomest – verbal tones I could summon up, “Why, yes, I’ve been told before I have a sexy accent.”

We had a good laugh. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to make your day, does it? Happy Thursday! ;-)

“I’ve driven an automatic only once.”

Quiet morning outside of Dublin. I thought I’d get a post up before our friends’ two young children (11 year old boy and 9 year old girl) wake up. Once they do, that’s it: there won’t be a free moment after! :-)

In a recent post, I semi-joked about various driving differences between the U.K. and the U.S. In the book, I raise this other reality:

About to leave, standing next to the car luckily parked in the only good road spot she could find anywhere near the apartment, Isabelle double-checked. “You can drive a manual car?”

As we know we Americans love automatic transmissions. Since the 1970s, most learn on them, and most drive them. If you rent a car in the U.S., it is assumed renters expect an automatic.

20140419-100329.jpg

Ireland is much the same as the U.K. in terms of driving rules and mentality. In fact, by chance yesterday I had a laugh with “Maureen’s” husband over just this issue. They’re visiting Florida with us in June, and he has reserved a rental car.

He noted that an automatic transmission is not his thing at all. (His words here are best read aloud in a friendly, Dublin accent.) “I’ve driven an automatic only once,” he said. “From Hertz at Heathrow. For some reason when I turned up they didn’t have any manuals. Can you believe it? I didn’t know what to do with my other foot. I had to drive around inside the airport for a while to get the hang of it.”

For Florida, I suggested he phone the rental place and make sure in advance his booking is a manual. He realized his potential oversight when I said it. I reminded him that, in America, a rental car is by default an automatic, so if he feels uncomfortable with an automatic, he had better try to make sure the one he rents isn’t one.

To many Europeans, who learn on manuals and drive them regularly afterwards, automatics simply are not real driving. It’s cheating. It’s like sitting in your lounge…. and hurtling forwards. :-)

Have a good Saturday!

Head Of State

I stumbled on this in the in-laws’ lounge the other day. After yesterday’s post, I thought another taste of British “tradition” might be worth noting. I’d had no idea “The Lady” is still being published?:

image

The magazine itself notwithstanding, that cover of the Prince of Wales got me thinking about this. The U.S. and France of course have the role of national “head of state” and “head of government” vested in a single individual: a party politician. (France technically has a prime minister too; but never mind.) As we well know also, that invariably means that 40 plus percent of the population – at least – at any given time largely despise their head of state…. because (s)he’s first and foremost a party politician.

Britain is different. The prime minister is a politician, yes; and those who didn’t vote for his/her party naturally aren’t fond of who’s in Number 10 Downing Street. Yet even if someone is not a monarchist, the Queen (or King) is almost universally respected as the “head of state”: the apolitical representative of the British people as a whole.

I suspect that latter was what the U.S. presidency was meant to be when George Washington was first elected: a man (1790 usage) above faction. But, as we know, the role quickly became partisan. By the time John Adams was elected in 1796, and then Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the President was also seen as a leader of a party: a politician.

I will admit I’ve become partial to the idea of the U.S. head of state being separated from the head of government – with two people in the separate jobs. Imagine a new setup in which the “president” was only a ribbon cutter, visitor to disaster areas, national comforter, attender of foreign funerals, and non-political figure, serving alongside a “vice president” who actually handled the day to day of often ugly and dirty politics? Maybe then we could all finally agree “to like” our U.S. president. :-)