Annual Letter 2009

So here I am once again wondering how can I write anything that people will find remotely interesting, I figured if I re-read last year's letter and stole something from there, that may work.  I have to tell you, even I was surprised at what happened last year, what a blast.  But the truth is that this year was absolutely as eventful, one that I count as a banner year really.  Mainly because of the fundraising AIDS Ride that I did mid year, more on that later.  I did notice however that you got the mundane as well as the exciting.  I seem to have a clean window fetish, in fact they were done again recently.  If I have to add another fetish to my door fetish, you can tell me.  Be honest, I can handle it.  Really.  I think.

The year started in quite a strange way.  It seems soooo long ago.  There we were in Bariloche, Patagonia staying with Russell Ferrier (how many times has his name been on these pages!) and Gonzalo.  Misty and I cooked a very passable dinner which we ate on the deck overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi, and this light show began playing out over the sky, clouds, and Cerro Catedral mountains.  Suffice to say that dinner almost got cold while we ran around like banshees taking pictures over and over.  Just when we thought it was over, something else would begin that seemed even more spectacular.  But technically that was 2008, and the plan was to spend New Year's passage in town.  So we ate, got ready and headed into Bariloche itself.  Well who were we to know that it is a Spanish/Argentinean tradition to spend New Year's dinner at home with the family, and only coming out at 2 or 3am to celebrate??!  Nevertheless we, and the other 5-6 people who were also clueless, had a good time in the empty main square.  

It was hard to come back down to earth (literally, after the high mountain trekking) after that, but I did hit it, and hard.  Genghis has had a hole in the heart since birth (as well as a host of other genetic defects, poor kit) but had been unaffected for years.  Not long after returning from Argentina, he had a partial cardiac arrest.  He was up most of the night (by implication guess who else was also), unable to lie down.  It turned out that the low blood flow was insufficient to absorb the moisture that we all generate in our lungs, to be then transported to the liver and bladder.  He was literally drowning from the inside.  His breathing was still laboured in the morning so I rushed him to the vet first thing where they did a fantastic job of stabilising him.  In such situations your brain doesn't work that clearly so I didn't realise the severity of the situation until someone said to please ask the scheduled appointments to be patient while they dealt with an emergency.  The nurse immediately had to bring a big box of tissues.  

So I then had to get him 45 minutes to the other side of town where there is an animal IC unit, but he wouldn't have lasted the journey without oxygen.  So a nurse ran across the road to rent an oxygen cylinder and we rigged it up in the car pumping oxygen into a plastic garbage bag that we had wrapped around his carry cage.  It would have been a hilarious set from a movie had it not  been so serious.  'Man arrested for uber speeding while transporting big white meowing bubble.'  

So after spending 36 hours in a humidicrib on oxygen under 24/7 surveillance, he survived.  They didn't expect him to live, so one life has been burnt.  Then they didn't expect him to survive past 6 months, but it is now nearly 12.  Another life burnt.  So he has a few left and as long he stays on 6 medications a day, who knows.  At the moment he is sitting on top of the couch watching the fire, is still a pill to his sister, and still insists on sleeping between my legs every night, keeping me up with his incessant happy purring sound noises.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

I discovered a new fruit in Brasil in May, jabuticaba.  I also leant about other fruit that I knew, but didn't recognise the Portuguese name.  Maracuja is passionfruit for example, an excellent addition to a batida (a caiprhina, but made with fruit other than lime).  Part of the excitement of travel is making such discoveries (closely followed by the joy of having the company foot the bill since it is work travel), but jabatucaba was new to me.  It is a rare fruit that grows directly from the tree branch, not on a stem, just straight out of the branch.  Small black/purple berries that when reduced to a paste make a piquant accompaniment to grilled meat.  We also discovered it made an even more excellent liqueur.  The worst part was not finding any of the liqueur to bring back.  All my Brasilian friends roll their eyes in joy when I mention it.  I guess I will just have to look harder for some next time.  (Think Indiana Jones in jungle with secateurs.)

But the highlight of the year was without doubt participating in the AIDS Lifecycle 8 ride in early June.  Whilst I raised over $4000 (and thank you again everyone who donated - BTW you should have your tax statements by now) the hair really stood up on your neck when they announced that the total raised this year was $10.5 million.  With 500 fewer riders due to the recession, we actually raised $2 million more money.  An amazing effort.  I have detailed the ride elsewhere in this little section of the WWW but it is worthwhile to say that the effects of doing the ride continue to this day.  And I don't mean the 6 lbs that I lost as a result of the no alcohol in camp rule (or was it riding 525 miles?, maybe both), but the reaction of people when they find out about the ride.  I was at a neighborhood BBQ some weeks after, and a local lady very emotionally thanked me for participating.  Her sister, an actress in NYC, had contracted AIDS from an ex boyfriend, and being between jobs at the time, couldn't afford money for medications.  Without the assistance from the local AIDS and HIV office, she would not have survived.  People open up to you about a brother, sister who either is living with or has died from this pandemic.  They are very emotional conversations as you can imagine.  And even this weekend, friends were still talking about the effect it had on them (and how good I still look with the 6 lbs missing!).  :)

I will take a pass on doing it in 2010 (other plans, watch this space), but am definitely returning in 2011, and bringing with me hopefully a new group of riders and roadies who want be part of the fundraising, and to also experience 'the magic' of living in an emotional Shangri-La for a week.

However if there was ever a very close second to participating in an AIDS Lifecycle ride, going to watch the Tour de France was it.  I still have flashbacks to those wonderful few days in Paris, that most boring of cities.  Yeah, right.  It really was a concertina of experiences, squashed into a concentrated 5 days.  Initiated by Russell and Gonzalo deciding to do a house swap for a month, and a time that fortuitously coincided with the TdF final stage into Paris.  Upped several octaves then by the unplanned presence of biking pal Pam, and Michael who really added icing to the cake.  I was so excited by the experience that I bought two left shoes.  I guess you only do that when distracted, and that is sure what happened in a little shop in Le Marais.  Lovely cream suede, got them home and somehow one of them had transformed itself into the other foot.  But thanks to a modern invention called the Post Office, I managed to exchange one, and I can now walk properly again.

It is said that cycling is one of the last sports where you can get so close to the players as to be able to touch them (or spit on them if you are Lance riding through German corner up the Alpe d'Huez.  I'm not a Lance fan but that is not right).  Can you imagine getting that close to touch Tiger Woods for example?  (Insert joke here.)  But wandering around the little start village of Montreau-Fault-Yonne we were able to see many of the riders.  And at that day's start line, I had to push Christian van de Velde out of the way so I could get a clear line photograph of Alberto Contador behind him.  Just kidding, but it wasn't that far from the truth.  And while we are on it, why aren't French villages called, Blackpool, or Innerloo for example?  What's with the shi shi Montreau-Fault-Yonne thing??

I wasn't able to make it to Brisbane for my niece, Taleesha's 21st party, but I did get there in late August for a belated celebration.  It is a wonderful (but tiring) part of my job that I am able to get to Australia three times annually, and usually am able to make it back to Brisbane at least once a year. Equally my opportunities to visit friends in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth are also possible, although I haven't been to Sydney for two years now.  Must fix that in 2010.  But the Brisbane visit this time included a lovely dinner at sister Judy and Tony's home, recently ravaged by a fierce storm that unroofed part of the house.  Bit like life in FL!  My second parents, Tony and Cheryl Medland, and also Ron and Shelly Barclay joined us for a great evening of catching up.  You may remember from my 2008 letter, that John Thorsen is the friend I have known longest in the world.  Ron would be the second.  We have known each other now for 42 years.  If you are reading this and less than 42 years old, that is a scary thought!  But if you can have friends for that long, it is also one of life's great pleasures.

So not long after getting back home, Sparky Marquis, winemaker and co-owner of Mollydooker wines with his wife Sarah, visited Jacksonville to host a special dinner showcasing these stunning wines.  Mollydooker, as any Aussie would know, is slag for a left hander.  Sparky and Sarah are both mollydookers, as are all their wines.  And toothbrushes.  They have only had five 99 point wines in their short history, so you know why I am not that enthused about them.  I had tried for weeks to get a guernsey at the dinner, with no luck.  Even worse, it was to be held in the University Club, only 18 floors above my very own office!  Quique Mora, also a fan, had also tried on my behalf without success.  So there I am, driving south along I95 towards home feeling very much like I was on the Z List.  When Quique called.  You're in, you're in he yelled.  I didn't have time to listen to him though, I was busy trying to do a U-turn at 70 mph.  So some time later, there I was in the University Club, courtesy of (hang in with me here, it gets complicated) Quique, who had called Mark Graeser (owner of the Wine Warehouse), who had called Jim Parker (Jacksonville bon vivant and organiser of the dinner), who had told Sparky we need this guy here, he is Australian so he can translate!  Tables were formally organised, so where did I end up?  Yep, the official table, seated right between Sparky and Mark.  I have never gone from the Z list to the AA list so quickly in my life.  The night was absolutely magical as you can guess, with laughter, knowledge, friends, and moltissimo wine involved(we even made our own wine blend right there at the table), and I left with one indelible lesson learnt.  You don't have to know important people, you just have to have friends who do!  So thankyou again Quique, Mark, Jim and Sparky.

I ordered another dozen the next day.

In November my job blew out.  In a good way, I think.  So when I moved to the US in 1998, I was Marketing Manager - Europe,  then in 2000 I changed to looking after sales and marketing for The Americas, north and south.  And that has kept me busy enough since.  So now we have created a new policy of expanding the regional offices.  My office in here in Jacksonville has been in existence for many years, and 2 years ago we opened our office in Shanghai.  Both offices will now be expanded, so I now have responsibility for The Americas, and additionally Western Europe.  Which basically means I should sell the house, and check into seat 12A permanently.  It will mean more travel to Europe obviously, which is a part of the world I have always loved, but the possibility of getting there other than by doing a 'Samantha' and wiggling my nose, is less appealing.  However change is always good, so I look forward to being more 'refreshed' in the coming years.  Just don't ask me to fly anywhere for a quick visit.  (Unless of course it involves the bike, or a Grand Tour.  Or a Classic.)

In order to prepare for the imminent change (oops did I let the 2010 TdF trip slip out?), I had a quick visit to Paris in late November.  They now have the world's largest snowflake at the bottom of the Champs Elysees and seeing that in the inkiness of a black winter night really put goosebumps on one's goosebumps.  The sight that took them right off again was a little icicle covered store that was selling 'le veritable hot-dog americain'.  But you have to hand it to the French, they were selling them for 4 times the price in the US.  Commerce lives in Paris!  

And finally (because I know you are getting into ADD territory now), I do have to mention this very very worthwhile venture.  This Christmas I have been inspired by a lovely friend here in Jacksonville, Kris Brown is her name.  She takes it on herself every year to get a group of people together and buy needed goods for military families who have a parent fighting overseas and missing for the Christmas season.  This year I had a family with 3 girls, 2, 3 and 8.  They had asked for very basic needs, diapers, diaper wipes, towels, bath mat, pillows, school knapsack etc.  We added gift cards to enable them to buy items probably forgotten from the list.  Military families are not paid highly as I'm sure you know.  I mention this simply to encourage any 'Jacksonvillewegians' reading this to join Kris' band of helpers next year.  (Madie Garcia already joined me this year, way to go Madie!)  I would be very happy to pass along your details.

And finally, I thought it may be interesting to share some of the books I enjoyed reading this year.  I think books tell a lot about a person, I just don't know exactly what.  I just finished 'Founding Brothers', about the very early years of the American nation.  I had never read Washington's farewell Address, nor understood its intricate messages.  I also started for the second time 'Seven Ages of Paris' prior to my TdF visit, to get in the 'mood'.  It is one of very few books I have read twice, being chock full of the most wonderful stories of the history and development of Paris.  If you read the book you will know who Pere Lachaise was.  'Delizia' was a revealing book about the history of Italians and their cooking (where did pizza start?), and 'Chocolate and Zucchini' is a little gem of French recipes containing, guess what?  'A Hedonist in the Cellar' instructs you in the most interesting wines that you should drink before you kark it.  If you are feeling healthy, read it slowly.  And I still have, and want to read again, 'I Claudius', a book I first read when at Uni, and it has held me captive all these years since.  My final confession is that I have yet to read (but I have bought it in anticipation so I should get half points) 'The Fatal Shore' by Robert Hughes, perhaps the most definitive Australian history ever written.  

And so, listening to Diana Krall, with Chaka lying behind my neck on the couch, and Genghis now watching the lights on the Christmas tree, it only leaves me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas/holidays wherever this finds you, and a safe and healthy 2010.  

And don't forget to look for me in 12A.

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