Annual Letter 2011

Dec 26/27/28, 2011.  

So once again I am a tad late getting this up, but at least it is still 2011!  (Oops, I'm finishing it in 2012 now....)  This Holiday season is tinged with sadness at the passing of my friend, and customer, Roberto Alderighi.  I was on my way back from a quick holiday in France when I received a call that his very short battle with cancer, had been lost.  With the assistance of a most patient and persistent AA ticket agent in Heathrow airport, I was able to get to Florence in time for his funeral.  My luggage even followed me, which was a minor miracle given it was almost on its way to Florida.  Seen here with his wife Francoise, Roberto was a lion in negotiations, a staunch advocate for his company and the ceramics industry, and a passionate font of knowledge of all things Italian, but especially the Renaissance.  You could ask a simple question, and receive a wonderful and lengthy dissertation on the topic.  

IMG-20110507-00141  Vale Roberto, ci mancherai.

DSC_0207  So this time last year sister Sue and Jimmy had just moved to the US and spent  some time with me before heading on to what would eventually be their new home near Atlanta, GA (seen here deeply stressed after the arduous journey).  Makes sense then that I am writing this letter in their kitchen where we have all just had a very enjoyable Christmas.  Home made Rocky Road, lamb, wine, white Rocky Road, ham, wine, chocolate rum balls.  Got to love Christmas and the way it forces you back to the gym.  Thanks guys (and also Steve the new kitty).

Email002  I had been scanning in some old photos and sometimes you find Christmas pictures that just make you smile.  You will recognise one of the Sydney elves from circa 1993?  Mark will recognise the other imp, I mean elf.  You have to just smile and enjoy the memory of such fun times, fortunately they still continue.  

IMG-20110304-00048  Clint and Misty led us down to Trinidad for Carnival (lots of great pics there, and another 5 pages at the bottom) in early March and I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Rejane, shown with us above at rehearsal of her favourite steel band, Phase II Pan Groove.  Clint and Rejane went to Pratt College together and had not seen each other in all that time.  Misty and I just sat back and enjoyed the banter and hearing the vibe of those times, met Rejane's husband Colin and children (as Roberto Alderighi was to Italian history, Colin was an encyclopedia on Trini history) and enjoyed the spectacle of the second largest Carnival on earth outside of Rio.  Do yourself a favour and listen to the 2011 song of Pan Groove here, this was in the pan yard (as the rehearsal home is called), and we were there.  The sound is better than the recordings from the grand final, two nights later.  It is impossible not to dance to it.  If you ever get the chance to do 'J'ouvert' in Port of Spain, do it too, it starts at 05.00 the morning before Carnival!  We concluded with a recovery week in Curacao.

DSC_0101  It isn't very often that my travel schedule enables me to enjoy an historic event, but on my way back from Australia in April, I detoured to Brussels to watch the 2011 Paris-Roubaix race.  Any cyclist will tell you that to watch such an event just makes your hair and spine tingle, but to see this particular 258 km event, ridden along 19 stages of the cobbles of northern France, is knowledge that every part of the riders tingles, jars and just plain hurts on this ride.  It is a suffer-fest.  This is a ride for hard men, here Tom Boonen, ??, and Alessandro Ballan ride past us on the famous stretch in the Arenberg Forest.

DSC_0317  Nearby was the very famous Koppenberg climb, and any cyclist needs to either ride it (I had no bike) or do what I did, which was get down and kiss the ground.  Seriously I did.  I felt like the Pope.  The Koppenberg is part of many races but the most famous is the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).  It is 12% average gradient, but 22% at the max.  Add in cobblestones, and that makes one hard puppy.  If you want to live close by, the farmhouse at the top of the climb is for sale!

P5010707  After many invitations over the years I managed to spend a weekend in May with friends Chris and Sue at their holiday home in SW France.  We drove and ate our way around the locale and I easily discovered why they enjoy it so much there.  Local markets are in different villages on different days, so you hardly have to visit a supermarket.  I salivated at this display of spices at the Montcuq market, can you imagine that in a shop?  Never!

IMG_0044  At the end of that trip I was lucky (again) to notice that the Giro d'Italia race finished in Livorno, a place I visit for work.  Naturally a combination of the two became possible, but who was to know that what would normally have been an exciting day of racing, would become a funeral procession.  The day before, one of the Belgian riders, Wouter Weylandt, had died descending, after his pedal hit a low rock wall.  This day's race was cancelled from the competition and here his team crosses the finish line with Wouter's best friend, Tyler Farrar, as part of the line (blue helmet, third from right).  The atmosphere was electric all day, hearing the slow procession on the race announcements, and then to see this final moving tribute to their friend.  Even worse, his girlfriend was pregnant with their first child, fortunately she gave birth successfully some months later.

P6110905  But not all cycling has such tragic circumstances and I had a very uplifting time in June doing the AIDS Ride once again.  The ride covers 545 miles/700 kms from San Francisco to Los Angeles and takes 6 days in a combination of grueling, grunting, and gleeful riding.  The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a feature of the gay world all around the globe, and here I received their special blessing.

DSC_0758  This 4th July was a pretty special one as I have never been able to share it with any of my family.  As an Australian, Independence Day is just a movie, but since I have had American citizenship, it has taken on a very different meaning.  Jimmy is an American citizen, and the kids all therefore have dual citizenship, so having them all here to experience part of their heritage was great.  We spent part of it once again under Tom and Peggy's tree at the Beach, always such a fun time and a flood of interesting people dropping in.  I bunted my house (can you 'bunt' anything?) for the occasion.

100_0705  Still with me?  It was a very full year and I'm exhausted already writing about it, but we are only at Aug.  Mum was 80 this year (but don't tell her I told you), and wanted to spend it in the US.  She had also always wanted to visit Paris, but never had the opportunity, so I brought her and sister Carol to the US by the most direct route from Brisbane, which of course is via Paris.  We had a great time playing sightseeing, the highlight of her trip was a special nearly 2 hour facial at the Guerlain HQ mother-ship on the Champs Elysees.  Mum had worked as Queensland Manager for Guerlain for many years and they made her feel very special.  And for the price they damn well should have!

DSC_0469  Inside the mother-ship testing the new fragrances.  Their newest is called Little Black Dress.  Only the French could come up with that.

P8210962  Sam and Mark held a lovely party at their home for Mum, and naturally she was asked to tickle the ivories.  She didn't need much coaxing, and here she is in full flight at the baby grand.  Wearing, I might add, a gorgeous black frilly blouse from Paris.  The shop attendant even ironed it in the shop for her!

P8310980  Each year we begin the Budget process in a different location, it always used to be in Perth, but last year we held it in our Shanghai office, and this year I hosted it in Jacksonville.  Instead of doing it in the office I used it as an opportunity to showcase aspects of northern Florida, not normally seen by visitors.  We held the sessions at the White Oak Conservation Centre, up on the St Mary's River border with GA.  Not only is it a centre for conservation of endangered species, but it is also a collection of lodges on property to host such corporate and private gatherings.  Most Jacksonville people don't know about it, so I really recommend it to you all.  Please visit, please join as a supporter.  Cheetahs are one of the species on site and this little girl was happily enjoying her day.  We managed to get very close to some and (through the fence) I stroked her neck.  Totally surprisingly, she started to purr, loudly yes, but other than that exactly like a house cat.  I guess it shouldn't be so surprising, but it was.

DSC_0628  Have you seen the movie 'In Brugge'?  I hadn't but on arrival there on a weekend between business meetings, good friend Thomas presented me with the DVD.  He didn't tell me however, that everything we were to do over the next 2 days was almost exactly like the movie.  Actually we only stayed in the same hotel and that was about it, other than also visiting the bell tower.  We didn't jump off.  But it is stunningly lovely, made more so by having Thomas, as someone who has known the area since a child, to show us around.  Restaurant Siphon in the woods was also a great experience.  A wine list probably as long as to the moon and back, and prices that made you gasp.  But in a good way, a really good way.  There's not many places that have verticals of Cheval Blanc that are affordable.  I also drank arguably the most famous of the Trappist beers, Westvleteren.  First beer in maybe 20 years.

PA020929  I had been keen to ride L'Eroica for several years and finally it happened in October.  It is a retro ride on the white gravel roads of Tuscany, your bike must be older than 1986, although you don't have to be.  But it helps.  Loriano, Guido and friends arranged it all.  I didn't have a great ride, but it was still so much fun.  My bike was a Mait, made in Florence in 1976.  Very hard to ride, the bars are way down compared with today, and of course the brakes are less effective.  But that is why you have a butt.

PA290989_2  So my citrus trees are having mixed results this year, I got a new lemon tree that is going gangbusters.  The mandarin is marginal, the cumquat continues to thrive (almost double thumb sized monsters this year), and the new limequat (hybrid of a lime and a cumquat) is doing just OK.  Lots of fruit, just needs more leaves.  I really think the soil around my house isn't that good so short of replacing the lot, any green thumb ideas are most welcomed.  Naturally the fruit goes into jam or chutney, but the lemons.  Ah yes, the lemons.  They go into making the annual crop of Limoncello.  Here is the Thanksgiving edition.  It didn't last beyond Thanksgiving either, so tomorrow is limoncello making day, part 2!

DSC_0696  I made a quick sojourn to France early Dec and, if you can believe it (I hardly can), made my first ever visit to Bordeaux.  After all the damn stuff I have consumed over the years, I had never visited the city or the vineyards.  I still haven't visited any vineyards (we didn't have a year to spare), but the city is an official tick.  Only 999 things to do now before I die.  Good (as distinct from 'old' even though we have known each other 35 years...) friend Bill came over from Sydney to join me and we recommenced talking I'm sure from the exact place in the sentence where we stopped last time we saw each other.  3 years ago think it was.  Any rate, we had a hoot.  Our day trip to Bordeaux was marked by cold rain squalls every hour or so.  Fortunately the clever French have designed their cities such that a wide selection of cafes is only a few raindrops away and we managed to avoid being drenched by deftly jumping into several, and then repairing our spirits with a glass of the local medicinal Bordeaux.  

DSC_0573  Seems silly to end with something Christmassy when it is now January, but what the heck, I like the picture.  They were in a little Christmas shop in Brugge and I think they are named, Saint Nicholas, Gold, Myrrh, and Frank-sent-me.  

Best wishes for a 2012 that will be better than 2011.

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