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November 19, 2015

Superposed lives



Our boxes arrived today. It was a long trip from Bordeaux, 4 months, as scheduled, just long enough for us to kind of forget what was in there, but not so long as to forget the history attached to each treasure!

Its an interesting thing, kind of the close ) or better the close “.  Some part of us was still there, still in France, still walking in solidarity with the rest of the Bordelaise, grieving the mistakes of Charlie Hebdo and a disenfranchised world. There is not enough change on our fractured planet.


 Our stuff left France a long time ago, before we did, and it had the pleasure of moving at a floating pace, while we had to fly and tear the bonds of gravity and the gravity of our itinerant ways.  But like a bad case of décalage horaire , jet lag, our here and now has caught up with us and now it is on us to superpose the last 12 years upon the next. Now we have the art and the tools to let us bring that life into this one. Our grieving period is over, we are onto acceptance, we are supposed to know what to do with ourselves now, we are supposed to have rediscovered our patterns.
Yes... I sent my favorite cooking chocolate!

And we have.

Having our stuff catch up with us has simply shaken some of the cobwebs out. and as we pick up some of the bizarre loose change that tumbled out, we are happy and sad and reminded of what an amazing dream we have just awoken from and fallen into.  

45 boxes, this is about half, crazy!!
Those 12 years were great.


Some wine for the spirits.
We are fortunate., just in time for thanksgiving!



September 18, 2015

RE-patriation

Emigrants? Migrants? Ex-expatriates, Patriots, Americans again, Oaklanders?

Still settling into this new/old thing .  So here it is, we lived the first 4 decades of our lives as Americans…..
pause

one decade as frenchmen

pause
back to a reality.

Back to the house we have owned for a long 18 years, but lived in only 4 and its all so strange and familiar.

As we unpack our “stuff” we found some of the items landed in their spots from 12 years earlier, and some floated off with a question mark. There were things we didn't recall owning, things which didn't fit into our new lives, things we tried to get rid of 12 years ago, the boomerang stuff that has returned to treasured status and some of the treasured stuff which is already adorning the shelves of Goodwill…
The last bottle af an extreme vintage

The house is wonderfully sparse, as are the closet rods the bookshelves and our agendas,  but we have notice the french stuff is soon to be NYK METEOR and will crowd our lives by mid-October.  Perhaps by then we will remember which cabinets are for cereal and which are for spices. So far the kitchen is a grab bag,  knives and spatulas co-mingling, pot lids in one room, pans in another!?!? Monty Hall would appreciate the randomness.



Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line




But what I want to try to understand is the changes in life that our re-patriation has wrought?  I only sort of understood what it meant to be an “ex-patriate”, a heady mix of belonging to several cultures at the same time.  We were part of a French community, the local American community and the Absent from America tribe as well.  

Re-patriation was a process,  starting with the straddling of the previous 3 communities and the decision to exit, stage east. First there was an element of quitting a club, perhaps because there was a shared challenge to living offshore. In an ex-patriate community there was a brotherhood of complaints and compliments autour the society you are invading. Second there is a loosening of the laces, maintaining a fit snug enough so as not to trip, but preparing your exit. Third, but not last, there is a reweaving of relationships from proximate to distance.  Its a bit of a roll reversal that I hear echoed in my voice when I say now, as then, what I miss is my friendships (and the cheese).   So we quit that!  We left some soldiers behind, but America is undesirable enough that we will be replaced. May they love it as much as we did.
Exploring Tahoe

So we are back in our new & old life. It is not really a challenge, it’s oddly easy. Life in someone else's culture is challenging, life here is home and familiar, I think a french person would feel the same returning to their shores. Perhaps life in France is more challenging on a technical level, but their complexity might in fact be what we are missing now.  Obvious differences, turning on the machine of daily life is a breeze, buying/ renting/ turning on a phone or a gas line is so streamlined here it boggles the mind that it could be so simple. No-one is asking how long you will stay, instead there are the open arms which presage a hug. There is not the tensing of the posture before a double kiss, wondering is it 2 or 4 and do I start on the left or the right?  But neither is there the acknowledgement that we have grown so fond of. When you walk into a store in France, you ALWAYS say “bon jour”  to the store!  or whomever might be listening.  In a doctor’s waiting room, you say hello to the collected masses, in an office, or a party, the custom is to bon jour everyone first, THEN chat, or work, or wait your turn.  In America, California version, the greetings are sadly unimportant.  They might happen, but just as likely, there are people you might never say hello to?!
Too often it becomes a “hello& goodbye”.

The food is expensive here, but deliciously innovative, the service is over the top, the pace is on speed, the cars are too big and there is traffic of epic proportions! I am happy to see there are high heels, there are silly little jackets on enough of the men and the proliferation of yoga pants is not as bad as all of the french think it is. The weather is better, the amount of Organic food is off the hook, but then again, the majority of the already less expensive food in France is of a better quality than here in ‘the states’.

12 years has made some inroads.  There are farmers markets everyday, there is “grass fed” beef at every store I have visited, tipping has climbed from 15% to 20, but I understand that wages haven't moved, so its a decent way to tax the rich and gastronomically inclined. The radio stations are still bad (download the app “FIP), and the cable TV bills are whack!  Cell coverage has improved and your prices are starting to drop.  We have been used to paying a fraction of what you pay, like 10 to 50%, that’s crazy!

We have given up succulent duck on every menu for the welcome plethora of Thai, vietnamese, mexican….. We are getting used to short showers and smelly toilets, still surprised by the homeless camps behind the never closed shopping centers, the cars everywhere, the outrageous prices for bread! And OMG how early ya’ll eat! still not sure what you do all night after you leave the food behind before the sun has set!?

But its our heritage too, and we are happy to be back within it, hoping that we manage to hold onto whatever bizarre or sensical habits we were exposed to over the 1.2 decades as frenchmen!
Oscar and cousins at UCDavis


Oscar heads off to UCDavis tomorrow, starting a new chapter in the history of P(O)D. Its disturbing that when I type that it reminds me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Once again, in so short a span, we will be redefining ourselves.  But that was a bit-o-the plan, to hide all these transitions into each other, hoping the change of scenes and acts and principle players would go un-noticed by an appreciative audience happy to have scored last minute tickets in the front row of our own broad ways!


July 24, 2015

Departures

we have moved a lot, but never quite this way.

upper deck in a first class train as we roll our of Gare St Jean

ciao, ciao Bordeaux

ciao ciao mes amis.

12 years and 44 days and it seems like we all grew up here, its crazy!  We never meant to invest such a large part of ourselves here, if we had we would have done it differently, but we would have ended up in the same place.  

Arriving in a heat wave that still sticks to my back, speaking in phrases, grunts and foreign tongues, we plodded and plotted and landed with aplomb, more than a plomb, in 2003, in Martel, in France profond.  Schools, real estate agents, le marie, tradesmen, marche’s and the curious french people that took us into their hearts where we stayed for 7 or more so years…

Page two, discovering the city mice in us, the urban splendour of Bordeaux!  speaking in sentences by now, never quite right, but we were a bit more than understood. Bordeaux changed who we were; perhaps it was the urban thing?  Half of being french is what we learned in the country, but that life was not so different from say, Connecticut or the Ozarks, just with better food and stones. The other half of the french assimilation is this “european” mentality that came to us in Bordeaux. Giving away the car, walking and shopping and socialising at a macro level. Somehow in the urban context we developed an expatriate personality which is different from the assimilation mode we started in. 

It was important in the begining, when the adventure was to be a brief one, that we dig in deep to the whole french pie, we eschewed the anglophone community, in part because there wasn't one, in the hopes of becoming frenchmen in disguise.  It was fun and frustrating and fulfilling, so many recollections of failure and folly, stupid things we said, did, or didn't where we should have, relying on our american persona to excuse our errors. I hope they thought we were cute as often as stupid.  The different people that have moved through our lives in the past 12 + 44, the best one’s have stayed but there were a few good ones we left behind. The kids that just stare, really, american?  but why you talk so funny?  the old ones that tear up and express a gratitude that I can barely understand and all the rest, friends, good friends, that started out from curiosity and compassion to become so much more.  We have made some real friends and we are taking them with us!  We are taking so much with us!

The extrication? the unraveling, our departure, our reboot…. 
Moving 7 times in the past 12+44 has been great, really. It keeps us honest, it keeps us lean, in suitcases if not body and mind.  One can't keep skeletons in the closet very well when the closets keep changing. The physical process identifies the emotional one.  We still have baggage, it still doesn't match, there is one fibreboard drum which made it right up till the end, a suitcase from my grandfather too, and a collection of backpacks and sacs and now a collection of 52 banana boxes that too may live to see another day!  But Im mixing my metaphors…

This last departure is different. we are perhaps tying a knot around the package and wherever we open it what tumbles forth will have changed in the translation. 12+44 has been such a resounding success and its kinda like, over!  Which means that something else must be about to start and that’s strange.  We are returning to a known set of parts and a known life, rich in friends and relations that have nourished us at a distance, but….

I feel like I have changed so much, who hasn't in 12 years, its easy to see the proof in the photos, the infant we carried around, the dark hair thats made room for grey, the eager eyes that now wear glasses. So, I suppose, the life we are returning to must have evolved as well.  And I want that.  I want our old life to be different and the same, I want the relationships to be there and strong and new and old and I fear the changes that will be there and just hope, and expect, that we have all grown in the same ways. 12 years is a long time, it was longer than I had dreamed it could be.

Did I say it was a success?  It really has been great, as a family we have prospered, we are strong and happy and ready for what’s next!  Oscar did so well at being a student, we did well enough at being french land barons, and perhaps the return to an altered life will make the mid-life transition an easier one as the nest we are emptying is a new and familiar one.  Its an odd set of circumstances. perhaps I’ll soon stop talking to myself!

I got to watch Oscar saying goodbye to a friend or two and tried to imagine it. For O this has been such a huge part of his life, and he’s now leaving friends he has spent thousand of hours with and for another country.  Saying goodbye they hug like americans, kiss like frenchmen, and it seems to be me who tears up. Oscar is leaving a lot behind.


We each have our way of coping with the grand changement….Patricia takes pictures of everything…..Oscar is having vivid dreams….Me, Im just worn out by the emotion of leaving a life, or maybe it’s the parties!

October 5, 2014

Hermit crabs?

We are getting closer to changing homes.  The last few major renovation strokes are finding there way to completion and its getting easier to imagine living here.  Refinishing the floors was a lesson in humility. Once the polyurethane dried I could see my folie.  Sanding floors that have perpendicular grains is not for beginners, and while I have done this a few times, here I should have sought more help than one you-tube video.  I think the correct tool would have been an orbital sander, there are lines everywhere!  but from the photo's view it looks swell.

The handrail is the provisional one that was there before.  We intend to source some old wrought iron, but there is a deadline and this was all on hand, and perhaps a decent modern approach.

Poetry:  this table is made from a door we took out of our first french home more than 10 years ago!  It was next to that roman column we uncovered. Fitting that it be here in this dining room several hundred years younger than that original location.

A birdseye view, showing the LED cove lighting, there is also a coloured strip letting us set the mood, but no disco ball....yet
This is the bathroom, the window was there, but the view was not!

Daniel taking a selfie
Patricia
Paris always on her mind!

Oscar casting his mind across the atlantic
This is what was happening on our road yesterday.  there is a painting studio there, they closed the road and had an artists session....I gotta get out more!  You gotta click on the photo and appreciate the scene.
This is the neighborhood we are soon leaving, they have been tearing the streets up over the past two years and soon it will all be new and pedestrian friendly, for now it looks like a war zone, the shops are still open, moving around the bulldozers and the dirt as they rewire the ancient quartier with new sewers, lead-free water lines and finer optic cables, next granite pavers and stone sidewalks,  soon we will be tourists in that zone and resting in the upper-crust new neighbourhood.



The changing of shells has been great (with the 20/20 vision of hindsight). While in the process of boxes, it's less fun, but it is often amusing. I brought home flowers from the marche yesterday to find that the vases had already been moved across town!  But that's what jelly jars are for, right?!

Each shedding and rehousing brings to mind all of the past palaces and humble hovels, and I miss things about each and every one!  The Annex on Richmond Place, the flashing antennas on Clark st, the skylights on Valley road, the stairs on Oldham rd, everything about the Cabin in Sharon, isolated moments through school daze, then the rooftops on Golden gate, the windows on Yosemite, the hot tub on Oak Grove, the view on Glen, the simple space of Harrison, the aforementioned roman column on rue Droite, the beams at rue Droite #2, the attic at chez Louise, and the sunlight at what we currently call home!

I wonder what will be my takeaway from this next home, perhaps staring out through the stained glass, or fires in the copper and walnut fireplace? But the real affect of serial habitation is the molding of the future.  I think each home has something to do with all of those that follow. Like the door that continues in our lives as a table, that each experience changes us and that there will be shadows of them all in the next.  So the demenagements make me reflect of the future homes as well as the past. I'm not sure if its getting closer to the sweet pith or if its adding layers and insulating that core?  It's both.  Each home is getting closer to the ideal, towards the "forever home" that one which reflects and resembles..... and insulates.

I've said it before, change is good!  the boxing process even has its merits!

July 6, 2014

Milestones




T-1
This time next year we will be boxed up and executing our return to the USA.  The idea seems so strange. We have only just completed our 11th year and time creeps as it speeds by. I still don’t speak the language well enough, I still don’t know my way around the bureaucracy, I still feel like a yankee tourist, but as well I feel like I am home, its an odd dichotomy.

Fears start to settle in about what is next, not the day to day, but what we might be giving up, and what me might be settling for.  We know and love our Californian lives, and we know what will occupy the days upon our arrival, the days, the weeks and the months, the settling in and the maintaining of deferred friends and homes,  but perhaps it is the fabric of our lives that is in for a change.  From the french homespun, to a long staple cotton? or is it silk to wool?  maybe its wool to silk?  point being, the background is important and it is the background fabric that is going to change. 

Obviously the Urban Fabric of a french city will be different from the tie-dyed fabric of a California city.  Its the stone and the grass, and the pharmacies and the cafes and the density and the river and the trees and the stones and the stones and the stones…. Its the opticiens, and the boulangers, the fromagers and the bouchers that shake your hand a they wrap your meat…. and the stones…


Its the cadence of our days here vs. there, the speed and the scale from east to west, the strolling pace and the 2 hour lunches. So I’m starting to see things “for the last time”, many wait till next year moments, and feeling distracted already, too soon, too soon.

France has been a penny candy store, and it has been an un-reality, and I have fell in love, but it was not my childhood, that’s American, and those comfortable shoes needs wearing.  I’m not sure about Oscar?  His childhood is a mixed up thing, like his language, we has a foot in two places.  I hope that its two full glasses and not two half empty ones, I hope that this experiment lacking a control group, turns out healthy, wealthy and wise. Perhaps where I keep comparing the two homes, he will simply be playing his B side in the background for all his years.

Perhaps I have figured it out: I’m constantly making a choice, he is not.  When I speak I am translating (unless I have had enough to drink) Oscar is not, it doesn't have to be a choice!  Its like the old idea that Europe is an ocean away….and it doesn't need to be!  We can hold them both in our hearts and minds and be citizens of the world! Or maybe he can at least…. Me, I am headed home.

If you can hear the conflict in my words then I can stop typing… I am both ready and trepidatious   .

We are well into the “last project”, painting and tiling and installing the lights. still working on the lower level, les chambres and the salle d’eaux.  Soon I will get to clean it all up and get started on the cuisine and the salon, it’s all falling into place.  The humidity of basement rooms is a tricky one. Mildew loves to eat up the paper tape I have used on a few corners, so I have removed and re-plastered in a few areas, the walls need to breathe, the healthiest solution is bare stone walls, but we like those!  My goal is to finish enough of this apartment to comfortably move in, while leaving enough undone to keep me busy next year. So the doors and windows will all wait unpainted, but I do need to get a new furnace…

Oscar starts his senior year in the fall.  We are still awaiting his grades from the year we have wrapped.  He has taken two sections of his BAC, the highschool exit exam, Francais and science, which means he is done with both subjects. Next year he has philosophy and literature in their place.  The next few months we will focus on college wish lists and the preliminary work on his essays.  The list so far looks like UC Davis, Berkeley, the Claremont colleges and a short list of others yet to be combed through. The stated career choice is still foreign service/ diplomatic corps. But something that involves skydiving is still of interest.

February 2, 2014

First impressions



This is what we bought.  Our apartment is one of eight in, what used to be, a mansion on the edge of the city park. Our apartment is comprised of the garden and the salon adjacent (plus the kitchen, baths and chambres that we are replacing entirely).
This is where the doors used to be. once upon a time, they were removed and bricked up, and then the small door to the left was cut in to make this apartments front door.
This is what the other apartment doors in the building look like.

This is what I uncovered on the inside when I removed the inner layer of plaster and brick


I found an old pair of doors, salvaged from a nearby home, a perfect fit!  Sanding, painting, fitting 4 pairs of new hinges and adding a biometric lockset.

But old doors are seldom sold intact with thier frame, so I had to make the frame.  I had some fir milled to the correct size and then sharpened Stephanies chisels (long story) and created the mortise and tenons.
Glue and two screws  at each corner and I have a door frame!

I don't know what these anchors are called, but it's how the french connect wood to stone. They are 3" long shooting star shaped metal straps cemented into the stone and then a single screw into the wood
Here is the view of the new doors from the inside.
The new doors from the outside.

The view from the street door, up the steps, through the glass lobby doors and onto our new doors


Bullseye Röst


I think it came to me in a dream....why not stuff a pork roast with a beef roast!?

I searched the web, assuming their was a recipe for anything, but was surprised to find no advice.  I found pork stuffed with crawfish, with jalapeños, and even with lobster, but no pork stuffed with another meat....


 I called my grill master friend Mark and got some advice
"cook it slow, use bacon, marinate the chef" and I chatted up my local team of butchers (that was an event).  I tried to be discreet and have the discussion with Jean Claude, the one looking at the camera, but it soon involved the entire equipe, fortunately there was a lull in the meat-buying business and
they were happy to help.  We selected a rib roast, they
removed the bones and butterflied the beast and then laid in
a nice strip of steak, a cut the called a
"cour de tete", a splash of salt and pepper on the beef and then tied the amalgamation into a "normal" looking roast.

I dry rubbed in some classic spices and let the thing warm up to room temperature for a few hours.  Set it into our french/dutch (?) oven with half a stick of butter and some white wine. The challenge was in the timing, but we were lucky, warned by the butchers, that this would be the important part, "undercooked pork is worse than overcooked beef". But I dislike over-cooked beef more than I dislike under-cooked pork, but I respect the principle. With the oven set at 375 F, I roasted it for about an hour and it was perfect!!  Letting it stand for 20 minutes until we were done with the appetizers was a dumb moment, but there is protocol here in France, and abbreviating the meal is a no-no 
(non in french).


The bullseye is the beef, the donut shape is the "other" white meat and the next ring out is the darker portion of the pork.
This was just too cool a photo not to include!  I love our farmers market.
Thanks to all the hands and heads that made this meal, and to the beouf and cochon who gave their all.

January 3, 2014

Tough Work


Im not complaining, but vacationing is tough work!  We are however, getting pretty good at it. It’s something of a tupperware list for us more than a bucket list, we do have a list and we are not so much checking things off before we shed this mortal coil, but rather stocking up for the winter, the winter of our mal-content; that is the day when we are longer Residents of Europe.  It’s the opposite of a burning fuse, i’ts this self imposed deadline where we will call this adventure to a close and move onto the next one, so we are dotting our geographic i’s and crossing our cultural t’s. Making certain not to have missed too many of the important corners of Old Europe.

If I had made concert T-shirts for this vacation, they would have been black, duh, and some lone rooster on the front, maybe 3 cocks, and the title would have been something like “Playing the B-Side”. 

Rome without the Vatican
Athens sidestepping the Acropolis
Istanbul sans Hagia Sophia
Naples -no- Pompeiians
The Back door to Ephesus

In all of our international richess, we found ourselves in (personally) conquered cities  with the time and energy to dig a bit deeper, to visit the B-List of attractions, to attempt to see a more genuine article.  Caveat, we were on a cruise ship, so our visits were brief and shallow, between 6 and 36 hours in any one port.  We did a lot of research and hit the ground strolling. We packed a lot of absorptive attention into our days, fueled by coffees of various thickness and quality. And spent a fair penny on public transportation, always our M/O in a foreign country. 

It was interesting to be in Turkey for the days before Christmas, there were a few Christian churches we wandered into, which were shouting their Christ-Was-Here story, but for the most part there was very little evidence of Kris Kringle about.  Lots of roasting Chestnuts competing with the turkish sesame bread and floating fish sandwiches, but not the deluge of music and lights that is greater Europe.  

The Mosques (a plenty) were as wonderful as my memories had colored them. We re-visited one and ducked into another under renovations, avoiding the main ones looking for the “other” and trying everything not to look like Western Tourists.  As we rode out into the suburbs of Istanbul we were amazed how its fabric seemed to be shopping centers and mosques, is this what America looks like to Europeans?  churches and fast food joints?

We bought our next few years worth of peppercorns and apple tea at the Egypt Spice Market
, some himalayan rose salt as well, because after all aren’t the Himalaya’s closer to Istanbul than is France? No rugs this time either, I told you it was the B-side tour!

In Athens we spent our day next to the Acropolis, they have built a world class museum there and have collected the treasures of the Acropolis and brought them into a proper environment for interpretation and study. The museum effectively houses the Parthenon, while being 500 meters away from it, everything but the building stones reside IN the museum, and in a manner that facilitates comprehension. All the ART is there if and where it can be separated from the architecture, that is to say the sculptures and the frieze. It was a treat!  It also made clear the controversy over the Elgin Marbles. While I think it is time for them to be restored to Greece, thanks go to the British who, having removed them from the site, were able to arrest the deterioration process, and it is clearly the removed statuary which is in the superior condition.  The Museum has reconstructed all the bits and bobs, with plaster casts of the (now) British sculptures, and the quality of the removed pieces is so evident, it makes one instantly glad that the Imperialist thugs bought  and borrowed what they could, and a bit afraid for how caustic our environment has become in the past hundreds of years.  The Acropolis has survived for 2500 years and in the recent past our air and rain have become so harsh, that its washing away our civilization!


While much newer, our Ship of Dreams itself, the Norwegian Jade, was a pleasant floating hotel. The seas were mostly calm, the food was mostly excellent, the entertainment was mostly bad, but life aboard a ship like this is a fun way to pass ten days. It’s a vacation, and being on a ship combines the ease of a beach holiday with the work of historical adventure, our days were full of culture and the nights were bacchanalian. We played volleyball and trivia on the “sea days”, passed hours on bikes in the fitness center, hot tubs and art lectures and then dressed up for cocktails and dinners, making new and never to be seen again friends from the wide world.  We had our favorite corners for breakfast, our favorite staff to chat up, our secrets spots onboard, and we learned, by the end of the cruise, which piano bars to avoid.  

For Oscar it was an interesting cruise, it took him a while to find his tribe. The days were so busy with historical fare that there was scant time to find and make friends. Some families leave their kids on the ship, but we are from the school of FFF, so we tugged and pulled the entire time.  By about mid-cruise, Oscar had a few room numbers and started staying out later than his wiser parents. We met a lot of military families, upper level officers, posted to one base or another for 3 years a la foix, so it was interesting asking the kids about that life and comparing their responses with their parents.  One thing we noticed is that they are usually educated on base, and therefore never get a chance to learn the culture or the language of their hosting countries, what a shame!  Oscar was “suited-up” from the first day, looking great in his slim black suit, this set him apart from the casual Americans and the rowdy Italians (lots of rowdy Italians). The Italians seemed to band together, taking over entire stairways late at night, too cool to sit in an empty lounge, too young to be served alcohol, not wanting to be reminded that they all had parents sleeping somewhere on the ship and being oblivious to the people walking through their midst.  Life on a cruise for an adolescent is a chance to play grown up, its a insular city, new rules, safe and yet exotic; everyone is new and equal and its interesting to watch the mechanics. Its not too different from what the oldsters are doing, everyone inventing themselves, talk comes easy, table-mates rotate, one has neighbors and friends for a week and then we all get to move back to our real lives.  Its interesting listening to Patricia and I as we keep changing our introduction story:  we are from France, we are from America, we live in Bordeaux, we are from California, New York, Missouri.....  Its nice to have a second language on a european cruise!  Next time I’m going to wear an ascot and wander the decks with a walking stick and a monocle....Daniel de von Bain III, maybe I’ll wear white gloves and start smoking for the occasion.


Our close friend Linda was traveling with us, so we had our own posse from time to time. A cruise is a great event to share, and while our days were sometimes apart, the beginning and the end of each day was always a fun time to come together and enjoy the retelling over a flight of martini’s in one of the dozen bars on the ship.  Christmas morning, was quiet, but we got the tempo up a bit once we started opening some presents and tossing about balls of streamers Linda had imported from England, some strange and wonderful traditions there. The wine and the beef were pleasantly from America, the chef was from Barbados, and the ship itself was of Hawaiian origin (built in Germany). The crew was as international as possible, with plenty of Croatians amongst the brass for some reason. Everything on board is in english, and a few secondary languages too. The ship was refurbished in 2011, but seemed new to the touch, they seem to be continually updating and upgrading every surface and element, there is no waiting for anything to NEED replacement, it’s done before anyone might notice. The entertainment was lacking on this cruise so fortunately we had each other. The singers couldn't sing, and the piano players seemed to only know how to play medleys!?  There was one fantastic show, part magic, part cirque, loud music and great lights, acrobats in the audience and it left us wanting more, kind of summing up the whole experience....what over already?...bravo...bravo!