Saturday, September 30, 2006


My 'hood

Friday 29th September, a dark and rainy night

Hyde Park continues to grow on me as a neighbourhood. It’s got a nice mix of folks in it. It is a bit like North Oxford or somewhere. It has plenty of foreigners and academics involved in the University, of course, plus there is a large black community. It also has a cooperative supermarket with broken machines and disorganised shelves, but a big heart. The man at the fish counter recommended that I try Tilapia the other day. I said

“How do you cook that?”

He said “It’s versatile, you can bake it, fry it, broil it… You can roll it”, and made me promise to come back and tell him how it tasted. A few days ago a dishevelled crazy accosted us as we left the supermarket. He screeched “I am not a bum!”

“I never said you were,” I thought.

I do a lot of walking round and round in Nichols Park, right by my house here in Hyde Park (as I have not been able to find the ‘Hyde’ Park – indeed, I am sceptical of its very existence.)

I go round and round with the pushchair (buggy) with my copy of Henry IV part 1 in my hand, whilst Jacob looks at the trees, or just nods off. Having a baby is a great way to get people to open up to you. As I pass by people smile at me and my son, or stop to talk to one or both of us.

Yesterday there were a couple of tramps (bums) on a bench with a supermarket trolley full of stuff, and some beers and a few old supermarket bestsellers strewn across the park path. I passed them several times with the pushchair (buggy). On the first, the more bearded of the two said,
“How ya doing there?”
as I passed. I smiled back at him.

As I passed on my rotations of the park the next few times I had my head buried (on purpose?) in my Henry. The more bearded of the two was saying to the other things like,
“But do you really like women? You really like women, don’t you?” And the other was muttering.

Up by the playground a large black dog barked at a tiny black dog with a beard – it barked so hard it pulled its owner by its tugging on the lead (leash).

On the sports field children were playing baseball – a big fat father was shouting things like “Get out there! Back up! Back up!” to his ten-year old charges, and on the other side of the field I could see an American football game (a football game) being played and hear piping voices say “Hut, hut, hut.” I’m not kidding. That’s what they said.

Walking round a grassy knoll, a group of small blond kids drove by in red plastic motorised car.

Nearer the playground on my way back again, I saw a little group of black teenagers walking along. The girls swung their tight-clad hips and the boys loped in their loose swaddles. When I overtook them I noticed that they were younger than they had seemed. The slimmer of the two girls said “get out the way. Don’t you see you holding up the man with the baby?”

As I drew level with them the girls stopped and cooed, “What a cute little baby.” We exchanged pleasantries. The boy in a black basketball shirt said

“Er.. what’s your race?”

I said, “Um.. what do you mean?”

He said, “What’s your nationality?”

I said, “Oh, I’m from England.”

He said, “Oh.”
It was a strange way to ask where I am from.

On the way out of the park, the beardy tramp (bum) said “This a NICE neighbourhood! I LIKE Hyde Park. It’s SOOO peaceful! Shhhh! Don’t wake the baby!



17th Sept

Before coming to Chicago, one of the things I was worried about was race. I know that Britain is hardly an ideal society, but still you hear and read and see so much about the divisions in America. Of course you do get a sense of division here – so far all the students and faculty I have yet met at UChicago are white or Asian, and almost all the employees on the desks and the cleaners are black American or recent immigrants. But it’s not quite like in the movies.

Reading a paper, or going into a bookshop, or looking at lecture lists on university noticeboards, you see title after title on race relations, the struggle against inequality, the division of wealth in society. If not at the level of mass culture, then certainly in intellectual circles, the problems dogging the country are being discussed and chewed over to a very great extent. Now this is probably quite obvious – that a society should strive to overcome its problems, and yet somehow I did not expect it. What I had been led to expect from cinema and articles in British newspapers was complacent enjoyment of the fat of the land from the patricians, and seething rage from the dispossessed.

Anyway, in short I have been sensitive to the question of race since I have been here. One of the few things I knew about the area where we live, and where the University is located, Hyde Park, is that it is surrounded by poor black areas. As Zach, the Israeli guy who lives upstairs said “Hyde Park is a settlement” – we are surrounded by the dispossessed.

And yet the area is very nice. It is the most racially integrated area in the city, leafy and affluent, and people are polite and seem happy.

I needed to get some photocopies to start processing my work permit. I walked up and down East 53rd street a bit, and asked a couple of people. A very tall, large greying black man of past middle age walked towards me with a limp. I said
“Excuse me, do you know if there is anywhere I could get photocopies done round here”
without stopping or looking at me he said
“No sir”, he growled, and limped on.

I asked a young guy, and he rapped out fast detailed instructions and disappeared, I found the place.

There was a black woman working behind the counter in UPS where I did some photocopies who was talking to a white lady customer. The white lady was making jolly conversation, and the black lady was polite but rather monosyllabic. Then the black lady says

'I'm sorry, I am soo tired'
The white lady says
'You’re tired, you poor thing'
The black lady says
''Cuz we got ourselves a new church. Been up every evening this week till 1 or 2 am. Then I get back home, and have to come out here.'
The white lady says something like
'You MUST be tired'
'After a while it takes its toll, y’know'
The white lady said, 'it sure does'
And then she said
‘You know, I’m proud of you doing all that work, and you always so efficient when we come in here’


Welcome to Americkee

Monday 25th Sept, a bright afternoon

The house is full of the smell of lentils. I am sitting at a sunkissed desk in our Hyde Park Apartment, reading the Financial Times and I’m feeling at home. I just spoke to the perky postman to ask him where our packages are, and he directed me to call the appropriate number. The exchange between us filled me with glee, partly because he was so perky, but also because it represented a first of something that I had been told to expect in America, as you will see:

"Jus’ call that number there."
"And when do you usually come round?"
"Aam usally round here in th’afternoon, but it deepends. Today aam running a little late, see. But if you like I can just leave it in the hall for you if you not around…"
"Thanks, that would be great."
"…now that I know who you are – now you got your name up!... (he turned and jaunted off, calling over his back to me) I LOVE that accent. You have a good day Mr Roberts."

He alas didn’t say “that British accent”, but it was still deeply satisfying.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


This is the best T-shirt I have seen.


PISA: Boy pointing Posted by Picasa


PISA: Sheltering from the rain Posted by Picasa


BADIA: At the Lake Posted by Picasa


BADIA: At the Lake Posted by Picasa


BADIA: At the Lake Posted by Picasa

Can't you just feel the cool water flow over you? Mmmm! It's going to be much missed when arrive in the windy city.


POGGIBONSI: .Mark chooses specs Posted by Picasa


POGGIBONSI: .Mark chooses specs

The young lady was very keen on Mark getting something outlandish. She kept on offering him specs that she recommended as being "molto particolare". My favourite were a pair of black wraparounds with red legs on which the words "Exalt. Cycle." Unfortunately he left empty-handed.



OK, OK, I couldn't resist a little camera trickery myself in the end. But photos are so much better when Jacob is involved.


TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing?

You guessed it, they are all pretending to prop up the leaning tower....



TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing? Posted by Picasa


TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing? Posted by Picasa


TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing?

Is the lady behind Boussena about to do a cartwheel or something? Or signalling to the orbiting alien mothership?


TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing? Posted by Picasa


TOURISTS 2: What on earth are they doing?

Who is this man waving at? Can anyone tell me that?


TOURISTS 2: Floral Lady

The greatest outfit worn on the streets of Rome in 2006?


TOURISTS 2: Semi-naked in Church? - Wear bag. Posted by Picasa



This man always used to sit at his window near the car park at the Due Strade.


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In a roadside cabin, a video entitled "Mussolini and Fascism nestles beside "Cops and Throbbers". An interesting filing system. Is that Dewey?


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This is what black ladies look like according to the Murano glass people. Note the lips.




IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: Persian style Posted by Picasa


IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: A taste of central Europe? Posted by Picasa


IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: Businessman Posted by Picasa


IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: The good burghers of Florence

This was taken at the opening of a fabric specialists Rubelli. We were invited by one of Flora's old pals who knows the family. I did not really know what kind of do it was before arriving, and so came late and with muddy walking boots and my tatty brown woollen coat. A few days later Flora got a text from our host - She said "It was great to see you. Your London style was so refreshing amidst all that Florentine Roccoco". Hmmm!


IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: Jim Bob tm Posted by Picasa


IL 'LOOK' FIORENTINO: Jim Bob tm Posted by Picasa

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