Friday, October 24, 2008

A Re-constructed Diary, Part 1

A few people have asked me what's it's been like to be near the front-lines of the financial (and now economic) crisis. Actually I find the media coverage so expansive that there's nothing I know that's not reported out there somewhere.

That said, I've recently realized that a personal history might be interesting to look back on some day. It is now conceivable that we're watching a world being dissolved a week at a time, for better and/or worse. So, since I wasn't disciplined enough to keep a diary, here's an attempt to reconstruct one of the past couple of months.

September 1-8. We are in a cabin outside Machias, Maine, enjoying a much-needed late summer vacation. I am reading topology(!!) and Will Durant's ancient Greek history, written in 1938-39 (and found on the New York streets for free!). Durant makes the point that it takes a few hundred years to complete a cycle of ascendant culture, cosmopolitan cities, trade-driven prosperity -> stability, some sort of democracy -> concentration of wealth and power, subversion of government -> revolt or dictatorship -> land and wealth re-distribution -> trade-driven prosperity. This goes back to Minoan times, and probably further. It is both unnerving and comforting: why were we raised to think we're any different?

An anecdote. It seems the (subprime?) mortgage brokers and securitization conduits have devastated this part of Maine. All kinds of people must've re-financed unwisely, because 20-30% of the property is for sale, and it's not just the vacation homes.
Very sad.

September 9-14. I'm back in the office on Tuesday. Thanks to Jérôme Kerviel's shenanigans we now have to take off five consecutive business days, and we have a database to prove it. ( I am neither a trader nor controller, though conceivably I have access to systems.)

Lehman shares are sinking fast. There have been times in my career when our higher-ups have publicly said that they expected some consolidation in our industry. But it's clear they never meant this, and we are nervous too. On Thursday my boss tells me with a shrug some colleague is buying Lehman at $7. He knows this since he has to approve all trades we make, even for our personal accounts. I tell him that some Lehman employees have brought cameras into the office to take goodbye photos of their colleagues -- this is via a friend of Sofia's who works there. He's silenced by this thought, and yet he's been at the Firm for 20 years, and is perceptive enough to have told me in May that "it'll be a recession for the country and a depression on Wall Street."

On Sunday evening I'm in JFK, flying a red-eye to Budapest where we have an analytics team. I call my parents, as waiting for flights is some of the least chaotic time I have for catching up with family. We discuss what's being reported about what's going on inside the New York Fed regarding Lehman. I actually think that Lehman is technically solvent, but that they are suffering from a panic; my father thinks they are insolvent. It probably all comes down to the price one puts on illiquid assets, which may as well be a whim.

I then board the plane, which is one of the few ways left on this planet to have a Blackberry in your pocket and still be in a news blackout.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thinking about Lehman

(From wordle)

I dunno, this one is kind of sad, and not just because I know a few people there, or people who for whatever reason had a chunk of their net worth in their stock.

Lehman was not an Enron, Long Term Capital, or even a Bear Stearns.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ellie's Yellow Belt

Of course, we are very proud parents....

(For windows users, a better video host is here.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cookies in August

Seems Ellie was flipping through back issues of her Ladybug magazine and *really* wanted to decorate gingerbread men. At least it wasn't 98 degrees out with the oven on.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rainy Day Marble Run

AKA "I can't remember the word 'block'."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pre-school Year-End Photos

Probably a lot more photos of other people's kids than most of you would ever want to see, but what the heck.

If you have windows, you might try this link. Otherwise:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Borough Sense

This actually happened last October. I suppose Ellie had been asking how she came into being, and Sofia told her that we'd been looking and looking and looking for her for a long time.

So she relates this to her Baba (grandmother):

Ellie: Before I was born Mama and Papa were looking for me everywhere -- in the park, the bushes, around the trees....
Baba: What about me, wasn't I looking for you too?
Ellie: Oh, no, Baba. You were in Brooklyn.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Last Stop for Poetry In Motion

Just learned it's the end of the line for Poetry In Motion. Kinda sad. Hope I don't forget what the city I moved to was like....

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008

First Tomato Soup

Had my usual Saturday walk with Ellie and Lucy this morning. To Riverside Park and the River Run playground. Once we were home, Ellie talked about making tomato soup. Now, Sofia's made many fine soups, but none of them tomato. (I'm hoping for matzo ball soup one of these days.) I asked Ellie if Baba taught her how to make it, and pointed out that I've never made it. (I've only had the one Warhol presumably liked.) "No. I know myself." she said. Thinking this was going to be more pretend cooking I settled into some web browsing.

Then some tomatoes attached to Ellie walked by -- to the bathroom, where she can reach the sink. I paid a bit more attention when a pot of water came walking back from the bathroom, most of it (not all) staying in the pot. "OK," I thought, "this is not entirely pretend." and cleaned up the floor.

So I peeked into the kitchen. (Thankfully we live in an open-plan apartment, so this required leaning back about One Inch.)

Turns out that peek was some sort of sixth parenting sense: there was Ellie standing on her chair, serrated knife in hand, halfway through a tomato on a precariously placed cutting board on the narrow part of the counter in front of the sink. Knife is On. The. Way. To. The. Fingers.

[Oh. Jesus.]

I guess she knew she shouldn't have had the knife because I didn't have to say much or say it loudly. Nonetheless, lots of sobbing tears -- body-heaving sobs. Sheer physical trauma from the disappointment. This girl *really* wanted her tomato soup.

So we talk, and I explain that I don't really know how to make it. But we can always look it up in the Joy of Cooking. (Amazing book, that.) And of course it was about the fifth soup recipe.

And so we cut the tomatoes. (Ellie watched this time.) And sautéed some onions in olive oil, just like Joy says to. Ellie got to put in the onions. Then the tomatoes about seven minutes later. (Any risk of her standing near the stove on a chair seemed worth it.) We munched on some bread while it simmered. Finally we did the puree thing, added a touch of cream, simmered a bit more, and served.

So maybe I don't get a listening award. Or a home safety award.

And I certainly didn't get the salt right. (Not enough.)

But it was a very fine soup.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

That's My Generation

We were sitting in Big Nick's Pizza Joint last night where the TV is always showing Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges and the music is always some doo-woppy mix from the early 60's. (As is the grime, er, I mean, character.) So I was trying to think of how this music might sound from Ellie's perspective. She certainly didn't seem very interested. (But then again, she had Pizza on her mind.)

Let's see....the early 60's are roughly 45 years before she was born.

45 years before I was born was the mid 1920's.....

And it hit me: the Beach Boys are to Ellie as Puccini is to me. That's right, Puccini's last opera, Turandot, was written in 1926. (OK, if you don't like the classical music cross-over, how about Basin Street Blues?)

Of course by now you could replace the Beach Boys with the Beatles.

Wonder what the 'boomers think of that!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter

We're here in London for one last weekend. Unfortunately, today might've been the best weather we're going to get. Not very "springy": snow is expected on Sunday. And even today we got some hail between the sunny spells (as they say).

Went up to Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath and did an easter egg hunt consisting of a map and clues to nine eggs around the house and grounds. We found eight of them. At some point 3-year-olds (and their parents) get tired of tromping through an 18-century house where the main thing to talk about was 'Don't touch' / 'Why?'. Maybe it would've been better for older kids.

Anyways, Hampstead seemed very tweed-and-cashmere English, which is why we stayed here for the long weekend -- to get a further sampling.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Re-tracing Steps

It was our first non-jet-lagged weekend in London, so we decided to head down to the coast and see Brighton and walk the Seven Sisters, repeating a walk I did in 2002, when Sofia was in NYC and Ellie wasn't even on the planet. That day still glows in my memory.

We got away a bit later than we'd somewhat optimistically hoped, and arrived in Brighton a bit after noon. Spent a little while on the beach looking at the waves and all the rocks (and remembering reading Graham Greene's Brighton Rock back in high school). Ellie in particular had a good time collecting rocks, climbing rocks, throwing get the idea.After a lunch of chicken fingers and chips, we headed uphill to the bus station to catch bus 12 for the trail head. This turned into an interminable journey -- apparently some local train line was out of service this weekend, so the 10 or so miles to Seaford took over an hour. I think we stopped at each possible bus stop.

Finally we got there a bit after 3pm. Between the clock and the steady 30-mph winds, it was clear we were not going to trek all seven of the Sisters, have tea in Birling Gap, see the lighthouse at Beachy Head, or descend into Eastbourne past the hotels of bygone English holidays, or have a dinner of fish and chips before catching the last train back to London.

Yes, the first time around Kurt and I managed to do all this, and see the Royal Pavillion in Brighton. Sigh. As if I needed the reminder, six-year-older knees and the addition of a child to one's life really do make a difference. I was chided gently by a grandmother on the return bus who reminded me how fast children grow, after I had mentioned how much further down the trail I'd gotten the first time around.

Great days really can't be re-traced: you really do have to savor them at the time. And yesterday, I have no doubt we did too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Yada What?

A couple of weeks ago while Sofia was at work and I was trying not to burn dinner, Ellie and I were watching Seinfeld on TV. I had figured that this was not a very interesting show for three year-olds, but that doesn't mean they stop trying:

Ellie: What is George saying?
Me: [How does she know his name?] I dunno, let's listen....
A bit later...
Ellie: What's Kramer doing?
Me: [???!] Well, let's watch and see....

She knows Jerry too, but seemingly not Elaine.

Wonder if she'll learn it as "Eeelaaaaaaayne"?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Village Vanguard

Sofia and I got out to celebrate our anniversary Friday night and ended up where we usually do for a birthday, or when someone is in town, at the Vanguard. Thankfully, this was after a so-so Italian dinner in the meat-packing district, where pretty much all the other diners were born AFTER the Michael Jackson songs being played were released. (And, yes, too loudly.)

Anyways, the Ed Simon trio was playing in front of the red velvet curtain. Among us and the Japanese tourists (ok, and a few others), there were just piano, drums and this guy, John Patitucci:

Wow. For some reason a great bass player can really steal a show. They played several of Patitucci's compositions -- he's at least as much a composer as bass player.

Simon's playing is something like Bill Evans -- lots of colors and pretty. But after about ten minutes of Evans playing I always end up thinking "this guy can't swing to save his life!". Anyways, Patitucci can, and it was a solid show.

Made me come home and think about the other bass players we've heard over the years, and found that Ron Carter will be playing in April at the Blue Note. Can't wait.

Back Seat Accompanist

Just a few minutes ago, while playing (practicing?) Shubert's G-flat Impromptu:

Sometimes I think Kuzia had a past life in a nineteenth century concert hall or opera house. She always a willing audience for classical music.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's One of Those Years.....

Cute. Really. Makes the dot-com burst feel nostalgic, knowing how it ends.

But the bloodletting is trickling down. There were actually layoffs within trading and technology, much closer than the article suggests.

That said, all is well personally. It's times like these that I'm glad I ended up in plain old interest rates. Stuff that was supposedly "done" 10-20 years ago and many consider "boring".

Must be my laid-back Midwestern style. (Funny, I'd mostly forgotten about that till the reunion last summer.)

So it seems like another 'season' is underway, and it certainly looks like it'll be plenty exciting -- re-orgs, new priorities, the works. Will have to enjoy it while it lasts. Seems the sports analogy is apt: very few go out winning their last game, on their own accord. Thinking back on the people who are out of the industry, mostly it's a tap on the shoulder and the manager asking for the ball. Or spending too much time on the bench and getting the hint.

It ain't a walk through the tulips. But I guess that's a fun part too. Especially seeing how I suck at sports.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Speed Limit

Ah, good to be back home even if it was a 29-hour day.

So....think this month had something like 27,000 miles in it. Let's see
27,000 / 31 / 24 = 36.3 mph
for an average speed for the month.

Makes me even more tired. Was hopefully a unique month, fun but not exactly something I want to repeat.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's like one big Chinatown!

Whew. Near the end of this journey. Hong Kong is pretty comfortable for me -- I don't speak Cantonese, but things are familiar enough. I managed to dive into a local bake shop and buy a breakfast bun without a fermented duck egg in it. Glad I retained that ability from all those years ago.

On Sunday a colleague met me at the airport and we went up to the peak of Lantau Island where there is a Chinese temple and apparently a huge Buddha.

It went something like this. Tram on the way up (and down). You can see what a lovely day it was.

And then somewhere up in the fog there are statues:

At least there was no fog inside the temple. Although we almost didn't see it in front of our face.

Oh yeah, got my fortune. Something about being patient. Poetically put, there was a phrase about fish and dragons: while fish don't normally become dragons, apparently in my future--if I don't do anything crazy--something great will come my way. Hard to say if this contradicts that Calcutta swami who read my palms ten years ago.

Anyways, work is on Hong Kong island, which is like any Chinatown on steroids. It's pretty cool. I love these dense vertical cities everything you could want is within two blocks.

Back on a plane tomorrow evening.....

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day out in Tokyo

Had a good Saturday exploring the city a bit. Seems Tokyo must be a bit like LA -- very spread out. Unlike LA I guess, the transport system is good and I was able to get around ok.

Had quite a bit of Taiwan deja vu -- Asian countries are similar the way European ones are. I don't speak the language here, but recognize enough characters to not be too surprised when I eat. Smelled some good food in the shopping area around a temple. Took a couple of tries to get what I wanted -- first purchase was some fried salty things (the food is SALTY here). They were good, but not what I was looking for. So I queued up again and got some fresh sweet red bean paste cakes. Yum.

Of course the hot sake was good too:

Pictures from the day are in the usual place.

Off to Hong Kong in about 20 minutes -- this was an airport lounge post.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Clear Morning

Just as I was headed out for a walk, I noticed something in the view out my hotel room window:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crashed in Tokyo

Am having good deja vu here in Asia, in particular small restaurants and bars that feel like home even if you've never been there before. First trip back since 1990(!!).

Apparently it's okay to just take a snooze here at the Bashi Bar here in Yebisu:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Home Leg

Off to Tokyo tomorrow morning -- SUNDAY morning. (Arriving Monday afternoon, should be at the hotel around 6pm -- yes, MONDAY night.)

Meant to add some photos from NYC this week, but I was down with the flu. (And now everyone in the house has had a turn. Not the most fun week.)

So here are some photos taken last week. They're "city" enough.

Being away again is not going to be easy for anybody. I did at least spend a few minutes with Ellie and Google Earth "flying" to the different cities, and showing her the office buildings where I'll be. And we have Skype to look forward to too.

Off to pack. See you from the land of the rising sun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sznow on the Danube (Leg 2) (*)

And so, on to Budapest for 2 days, where it's a bit colder.....

Here's the street in front of our office here. Not sure I qualify to work on Fashion Street.

(*) 'sz' is just plain old 's' in English, whereas 's' is our 'sh'. So with the westernization here you get signs having szex and szandwhich (not necessarily on the same sign). Takesz szome getting uszed to. Unfortunately these are the only sorts of recognizable words in Hungarian.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Leg 1

Seems this will be a month of much business travel. Here's Canary Wharf in London, looking at the Millennium Dome.

Though I've not managed to leave the Canary Wharf area on this trip, there were a few times on the short walk between the hotel and the office when I wished I'd had my camera. There's something about the angle of light at this lattitude -- fairly bright and golden light at midday with long shadows.

Then again, when I pointed out that the sun helped the jet lag on Monday, they did suggest taking a picture of it....

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Joy of Jetlag

The holidays are over, and that means there are no easy excuses to avoid business travel. So here I am in London at 3:30am wide awake after optimistically falling asleep a bit after midnight. Over the years I've learned to function with it, much like learning to function after spending 2-4am trying to coax a newborn back to sleep. But it seems that it cannot be skipped -- it really is physiological. Even if I sleep through the second night (cause I'm usually exhausted) I'll wake up on the third night. And this is just the routine for a five-hour time change. My few trips to Asia (all years ago when I presumably had more spunk) were very unpleasant for the first week.

It's not thrilling, obviously. So I when I read the "making lemonade out of lemons" NY Times blog post on jet lag, I scoffed and groused that the author clearly doesn't have a corporate job --- it can't be romanticized, and if you're only gone for a few days or a week, you can't simply patiently adapt.

Nonetheless, as good essays do, it resonated eventually. So I was reminiscing about the fine jet lag experiences I've had. Let's see....
  • Watching Dr. Ruth, eine prominente deutsch-amerikanische Sexualtherapeutin, in Budapest on German TV. At least now I know she's still alive. Her German isn't so different than her English in case you were wondering.
  • Being waaaay outclassed at the Savoy Hotel. This was in the days before there were any hotels near the office here in London, so one had to get up even earlier to get into the office. Jet lag isn't to solely to blame obviously, but being cranky in a swanky place where Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor filmed movies actually seemed to make matters worse.
  • Catching up on old movies that I've never really seen. Last year I watched Porky's and The Sting at the same time, flipping back and forth. It's fair to say that The Sting needed more careful attention, but I think I followed. Or maybe I was loopy.
  • Watching The Red Violin without subtitles. If you remember, there were scenes in Chinese, French and German as well as English. The Chinese and French were fun at least. The only German I know is my last name. And now Sexualtherapeutin.
  • Watching dialog-free candid camera in Budapest and getting a strong feeling of deja vu. There were signs in Cyrillic, so I had an obvious clue to work with. I came home convinced it was shot in Odessa, having recognized the art market in backgrounds. My family was doubtful, so I spent some time googling to find one I saw, and the proof -- this is clearly the top of the Potemkin steps. If you've followed the links, you'll find the humor has the subtlety that sixth grades boys devour. I remember mostly watching for background scenes after seeing the first few bloopers; even jet lag doesn't mush my mind that much.
  • After sleuthing out Odessa, on the trip home they showed Romancing the Stone (of all things!). If you remember the opening and closing scenes were filmed in NY. At the end, when sailboat is being driven down the avenue I must've still been in background mode. The intersection is 80th street and West End Avenue. It's no surprise I recognize all four corner buildings, as I walk by there every time the dog and I go to the park. Sure felt like some strange kink in spacetime.
Yawn. Going on 5am now. Time to get some sleep before looking for that double espresso in a just a few more hours. Or I could see what's on TV.....