Showing posts with label Eurospan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eurospan. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Home at Last!

It’s been a whirlwind past month.  This is a place card -- an idiosyncratic summary -- to be elaborated on in the future, when I finally download the majority of my photographs.  The tale of people and sights seen are best told by them.

Ann and I just returned from an overseas trip, a long overdue stay in one of our favorite cities, London, for a full week and then our fifth (and probably last) transatlantic crossing on a cruise ship, with numerous stops along the way.

Towards the end of last month, we packed for two distinct trips, belongings we needed to return to Florida, and two large suitcases plus carry-ons for our flight to London and our nearly three week cruise across the Atlantic.  The former was left on the boat for our son, Jonathan, to deliver to us with our car upon our arrival at the Brooklyn Cruise Pier on Sept 22, and then we’d immediately begin our drive back home in Florida.  That was the plan.

We left JFK on Aug 28, an AA flight around 6.00 pm which was constantly delayed because they couldn’t cool the plane down (it was as hot that day in the Northeast as most of the summer – why leave Florida anymore?).  What was the hang-up cooling the plane?  Images of a number of nubile Amazonians with large peacock feather fans danced in our heads.  Finally they allowed us to board, a full 777, and still the temperature was at least 90 degrees inside the plane.  After taking off, the air conditioning kicked in, and as if they had no control over it, it just got colder and colder.  Ann took my blanket as well as her own, leaving me in a thin windbreaker. Brrrr!

But we made it unscathed and practically on time and emerged at Heathrow to be met by a driver thoughtfully provided by Michael Geelan who runs Eurospan, the company that sold and distributed our books in Europe for nearly 40 years.  We were deeply grateful, particularly anticipating that Monday morning traffic into London would be challenging.  But it was a bank holiday, and we breezed in to begin our week in London.

The objectives in London were to see old friends, theatre, and museums, not to mention sampling some of London’s fine restaurants.  I was also looking forward to getting around on the underground.  Having grown up in New York City, I know a thing or two about traveling subways, but London’s underground is incomparable: it’s clean, well organized, orderly (just cue up, no cutting in), and London’s Visitor Oyster card makes it a pleasure.  That’s how we travelled around London most of the time, although we also engaged a few Uber cars and traditional London cabs as well.

Theatre is always special there.  We were able to see In The Heights, an early very successful musical experimentation by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the immigrant experience, his precursor to Hamilton
with moving pastiches reminiscent of West Side Story and Sondheimian lyrics.  We had seats on the stage, the theatre being set in traverse with seating banks on either side.  Like Hamilton, the production is intoxicating high energy.

The following night we saw The Go Between.  This is a memory musical, a vehicle for Michael Crawford, beloved British star of the musical theatre.  But when we arrived, the theatre was abuzz – and refunds were being offered, or exchange tickets, as Crawford could not perform and his understudy Julian Forsyth was filling in.  Ironically this was the second time we had tickets to see a Michael Crawford musical in London when he couldn’t sing.  The first time some 25 or more years ago he stepped out onto the stage for a performance of Barnum, and announced he had bad news and good news.  He said he had laryngitis and therefore could not sing, but, happily, his understudy would sing off stage and he would perform, Crawford mouthing the songs in sync, which he did successfully.  His voice was never a strong one, so this worked well and his understudy in The Go Between had a very fine voice and was an excellent actor and therefore I felt sorry for those who turned in their tickets.  This is a haunting, albeit dark musical, strangely (to me) a little reminiscent of A Little Night Music (Sondheim again!)  Doubtful it would ever come to Broadway, but well worth seeing. 

Another night we saw The Truth by Florian Zeller.  This is very much in the style of Alan Ayckbourn in its conceit, a hoot with verity. One of the leads was played by a very sultry Frances O’Conner who also played Mrs. Selfridge in the British TV drama, Mr. Selfridge.  With a little tweaking for a US audience, The Truth could be successfully brought here.

The following day we spent the late morning and afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum being enthralled as ever by the massive collections and wonderful art as well as enjoying a typical English Scones and Tea break.  Some of my photos will tell that tale better than narrating it here. 

That night we had tickets (which I booked well before leaving) to see The Entertainer produced by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, starring none other than Kenneth Branagh, who plays the iconic, self-loathing, Archie Rice, a Brit comedian, singer, dancer, raconteur in the dying tradition of the old Music Hall, a metaphor for the post imperial British Empire. Among the other actors were John Hurt who had been absent from the London stage for a decade playing the legendary patriarch Billy Rice and Sophie McShera as Jean Rice – McShera played Daisy in our all time favorite Downton Abbey.  This is a powerful almost absurdist drama by John Osborne, well known for Look Back in Anger.  

I was intrigued by this play and its premise, my only problem being the very difficult British accents, so difficult for an American that I found myself trying to piece together what was being said.  Consequently, I bought the play on my way out of the theatre and read it.  Now I understand and can say unequivocally that this is great theatre.  Would love to see it produced here with a more moderate accent and a guide to British Popular culture.

Friday night was special.  Probably the main reason we were visiting London.  More important than theatre are the friends we’ve made over our lifetimes.  The Geelans and the Mahers are two families in the UK who are connected to us by Michael Geelan and Danny Maher being principals in Eurospan, Michael still running the operation.  Friday night Michael had booked a restaurant for all of us to meet up, with a stop first at 3 Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, their office and my second overseas home for decades.  It was moving and memorable and I’m glad I took a photo of the group with my iPhone so I can include it here (missing is Mhara, Michael’s daughter, who took the photo and Danny’s wife Pat who was just recovering from surgery).

Saturday we decided to go to Oxford Street, visit one of Ann’s long time favorite stores for nighties, Marks and Spencer, and walk through Selfridges, the latter being very impressive: Harry would be proud.  That Saturday night we had tickets for the BIG theatre event, one very much anticipated by us both, the Open Air Theatre’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the famous Regent’s Park.  This is outdoors and preceded by dinner on the grounds at candlelight.  The web site made it so inviting.
The one big variable for an outdoor dinner and show in London is weather of course.  Well after a week of downright hot weather in London, and sunny each day, the forecast for that evening was threatening – a chilly drizzle and wind.  After emerging from the underground, thinking the theatre was right nearby, we couldn’t find the Regents Park entrance for the theatre and there was no indication where that might be.  Well a few English ladies emerged from the underground and one had been to the theatre so we followed them.  It began to rain and we walked and walked.  Miles!!! We finally arrived and the rain abated (they do not cancel shows in advance no matter what the weather). 

We had our dinner with the occasional pitter patter of rain on the tin roof covering our table.  Ann had multiple layers and a genuine raincoat on.  I had my windbreaker and a light jacket, nothing to cover my legs so I bought a thin plastic poncho just in case.  The performance began in light mist and about midway it began to rain.  Hard.  The stage manager finally emerged with the news that they were taking a break to see whether the rain would stop.  What a disappointment.  While most locals were content to hang around in the bar, waiting, we looked at each other, happy that we at least saw a portion of the play, all the principals, and of course we knew where the story was going, so we left and got an Uber back to the hotel without having to fight crowds.  As it was, Uber was doing surge pricing because of the rain.  Thus our fifth and final theatre performance ended with a whimper.

Sunday was a big day.  Normally, we would be going to Danny and Pat’s for a typical English afternoon dinner, but Pat had just had an operation and Danny as well for a very severe torn rotator cuff and thus their daughters Lisa and Claire were preparing the meal at Lisa’s home.  In spite of their surgeries, both Pat and Danny looked well.  Danny thoughtfully provided the transportation to and from our hotel via a driver as Lisa lives half way to Oxford.  It was remarkable to see Lisa, meet her husband (Matt) and see their two adorable sons, (Daniel and Harry) and Claire, the “girls” now all grown up, quite a contrast to our being with them in 1979, pictured here,

and another in 1982 when we brought Lisa and Claire some of the first Cabbage Patch Dolls which were the rage at the time (and they still have them!).

Here’s Claire and Lisa with yours truly at the reunion dinner a few weeks ago. 

Just a wonderful afternoon with good friends, we think of them as family, and then the return to our hotel to pack for the next day pick up by a driver again thoughtfully provided by Michael, for our journey to Southampton to catch our ship.

So we began a trip of some 5,700 statute miles to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Bergen and Flam in Norway, a scheduled stop in the Shetland Islands, Lerwick (which we were unable to visit because of rough seas, a great disappointment), and then three stops in Iceland ( one of our favorite destinations), Akureyri, Isafjordur, and finally Reykjavik.  The leg from Akureyri to Isafjordur was rough, a head sea of up to 27 feet, with a 40 MPH head wind.  The ship’s bow would come off of one of the crests and plunge into the trough.  It was so rough forward (we were more aft) that staterooms were in disarray from flying drawers and loose objects and some passengers even put on their life jackets and tried to sleep in lounges near muster stations.  Also, in the bad weather department during the cruise, we were pinned to the dock in Reykjavic by high winds for 18 hours beyond our departure time and therefore the ship had to make up time for the next 2,301 nautical mile leg to Boston.  The seas to Boston were benign.  I could have crossed it in my own boat (had there been enough fuel!). 

That crossing took five days and we settled into a routine, my attending daily enrichment lectures in the morning, one on astronomy and the other on writing historical fiction, both up my alley.  Ann meanwhile had organized a morning AND afternoon Mah Jongg game, we meeting for lunch.  This left me free in the afternoon to first go to the gym and walk off some of the calories and then to settle down to catch up on my reading, perhaps my favorite activity during days at sea.

Luckily I had two books on my Kindle app and I thought I’d go to the ship’s library in case they didn’t last.  I found the library threadbare, empty shelves, the few books disheveled and uninteresting.  It’s one of my biggest criticisms of the Caribbean Princess along with it being too large a ship (3,500 passengers, the largest we’ve ever been on) and the lack of detailed navigation information which, as a boater, appeals to me.  A library on a cross Atlantic crossing should be well stocked and managed.

Thinking that two books would not last, I panicked and went to a store on board where they had a rack of paperbacks for sale.  Mostly potboilers and romance novels, nothing that would appeal to me, but luckily they had one copy of a book recently made into a film (which I haven’t seen), by an author who I admire, Dave Eggers: A Hologram for a King. I snapped it up and was confident I was set.

My first read (and my very first electronic book that I’ve read as I’m from the “old school” and love the printed page – after all, that was my business) was White Noise by Don DeLillo, a dystopian work of post modern fiction., the underlying theme of which I can summarize from a quote in the novel: “That’s what it all comes down to in the end,” he said. “A person spends his life saying good-bye to other people. How does he say good-bye to himself?” “What if death is nothing but sound?” “Electrical noise.” “You hear it forever. Sound all around. How awful.” “Uniform, white.”

It’s dark, a chemical cloud consuming the main characters.  Yet there are some funny, laugh out loud passages, such as this quote from the aging father saying goodbye to his daughter, probably for the last time, as he drives off: “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “The little limp means nothing. People my age limp. A limp is a natural thing at a certain age. Forget the cough. It’s healthy to cough. You move the stuff around. The stuff can’t harm you as long as it doesn’t settle in one spot and stay there for years. So the cough’s all right. So is the insomnia. The insomnia’s all right. What do I gain by sleeping? You reach an age when every minute of sleep is one less minute to do useful things. To cough or limp. Never mind the women. The women are all right. We rent a cassette and have some sex. It pumps blood to the heart. Forget the cigarettes. I like to tell myself I’m getting away with something. Let the Mormons quit smoking. They’ll die of something just as bad. The money’s no problem. I’m all set incomewise. Zero pensions, zero savings, zero stocks and bonds. So you don’t have to worry about that. That’s all taken care of. Never mind the teeth. The teeth are all right. The looser they are, the more you can wobble them with your tongue. It gives the tongue something to do. Don’t worry about the shakes. Everybody gets the shakes now and then. It’s only the left hand anyway. The way to enjoy the shakes is pretend it’s somebody else’s hand. Never mind the sudden and unexplained weight loss. There’s no point eating what you can’t see. Don’t worry about the eyes. The eyes can’t get any worse than they are now. Forget the mind completely. The mind goes before the body. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. So don’t worry about the mind. The mind is all right.”  Just a little guilt trip!

It was a striking change to then turn to Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool, his long anticipated sequel to Nobody’s Fool which I read in the early 90s and later saw the movie version with Paul Newman playing the iconic Sully. It is a rollicking multiple plot tragic comedy. It too is dark in some ways and Russo falls a little short of the natural humor of another earlier work of his, Straight Man.   To me, it was sad to witness Sully and friends in their twilight years. But this is a writer who loves his characters and imparts that love to the reader.  Everyone in the novel is a fool one way or another.  I couldn’t help but see Paul Newman in my mind’s eye as I read this sequel. He lived in my former home town, Westport, CT, and I used to see him around from time to time.  But Sully’s story is only one in the novel and Russo uses his story to tie together others, particularly that of Douglas Raymer, the chief of police who was only a minor character in the prior novel, but a major one here. At one point he wonders: Where were fools supposed to go? Was there someplace known for welcoming them, where he might blend in with others of his ilk? A place inhabited by middle-aged men who found it impossible to put their deceased wives’ infidelities behind them? Who fell in love again in the manner of teenage boys, too self-conscious and clueless to figure out whether their affections were returned? Was there such a place anywhere in the world?

A Hologram for a King by Dave Eggers in some respects reminded me of Camus' The Stranger written in a Hemingway style about the modern dilemma and the existential threat of globalism and its effect on jobs. Like The Stranger it has a strong absurdist quality to it as well as being set in the Middle East (in Saudi Arabia vs French Algiers).  It is very carefully constructed with simple prose, with profound meanings running beneath.

Alan Clay is a 54 year old “consultant,” hired by a major telecommunications company to sell an IT system to King Abdullah who is creating a city in the white sands outside Jeddah, the King Abdullah Economic City.  Will it ever happen though?  Will the King ever show up so Alan and his team of three young techies can demonstrate the power of their system, the only one that can create a Hologram of a person speaking from another part of the world?

Alan was a seasoned executive with Schwinn Bicycles before the company slowly imploded from a combination of poor business decisions and globalism.  He’s in debt and is obsessed with trying to explain to his daughter, Kit, why he might not be able to afford her next semester’s college tuition unless this sale goes through.  But every attempt to set up a firm appointment with the King seems impossible.  Days turn into weeks as Alan becomes unglued. 

He wonders where meaningful work has gone.  He once built a stone wall at his home, remembering the satisfaction of working with his hands.  Sure, it was crooked, not very attractive, but he did this.  With his own hands.  Nonetheless his town made him remove it as he did not have a permit and it did not meet code.  But where was work satisfaction today?  -- that was the more important question.

Alan’s team is ensconced in a tent.  It’s hot.  The Wifi doesn’t work.  He supposedly has a contact, a Mr. al-Ahrnad who is to meet him at the main building, the “Black Box,” but his repeated attempt to contact him there is rebuffed by the receptionist, Maha. And there is no getting to the King without settling issues first with Mr. al-Ahrnad.  Eggers dialogue does not employ quotation marks, but it is clear as to what is description and what is dialogue.  This is just a sample of the absurdist loop that Alan finds draining and bewildering, a man from the old school thrust into the modern dilemma:

Alan left the tent and walked up to the Black Box. He was soaked when he arrived, and again he was greeted by Maha.
-Hello Mr. Clay.
-Hello Maha. Any chance of seeing Mr. al-Ahrnad today?
-I wish I could say yes. But he is in Riyadh today.
-Yesterday you said he'd be here all day.
-I know. But his plans changed last night. I'm so sorry.
-Let me ask you something, Maha. Are you absolutely sure that we shouldn't be meeting with anyone else here?
-Anyone else?
-Anyone else who might be able to help us with the wi-fi, and might be able to give us some prognosis about what will happen in terms of the King, our presentation?
-I'm afraid not, Mr. Clay. Mr. al-Ahrnad really is your primary contact. I'm sure he's very anxious to meet you, but has been unavoidably delayed. He will be back tomorrow. He has guaranteed it.

Of course he doesn’t show again.

Meanwhile, Alan has befriended Yousef, a young man who is his driver at times, and who introduces him to a different world, the one below the fa├žade of a city which may never be built.  In so doing, Alan comes to terms with his human frailties, and even love and patience in a world over which he is but a meaningless cog.  Highly recommended and I guess I’ll have to see the film.

A footnote to the foregoing.  I’ve never had an author, and I’ve worked with thousands as a publisher, take the time in the acknowledgements to thank by name the entire staff of the printer of the book as Eggers does here (Thomson-Shore in Dexter, Michigan -- printers of the hardcover edition).  I met with Ned Thomson and Harry Shore when they founded the company in 1972 in Michigan and my company was among their first customers, if not their first.  It’s just a serendipitous tangential connection between this novel and my distant past.

In Boston we saw our son, Chris, who had taken the day off from work to be with us and we had a lovely day, lunch and walked around Boston on another unseasonably warm day.  Wonderful to see him, happy in his job (how many can say that?) and living in the seaport section of Boston, a beautiful urban oasis within a great city. Two days later we landed in Brooklyn where, as planned, we were met by our son, Jonathan, with our car already burdened by other suitcases from the boat, adding the ones from our cruise, and we dropped him off at the subway and began our 1,200 mile drive home.  I had hoped to make it to Florence, SC but heavy rain late in the day forced us off the road in Roanoke Rapids, NC, almost 800 miles from home.  I was hell bent to get home without another overnight so we drove 10 plus hours, averaging 74 miles an hour, including a few brief bathroom and gas stops, and picking up a Subway sandwich which Ann fed to me while I drove.  Home at last at 6.45 PM.

It’s always seems to be a miracle to make it home in one piece, particularly recently as we saw cars weaving, their drivers with their heads partially down towards their laps, obviously texting while driving at 70 plus miles an hour.  When is software going to be developed which prevents this?  It is now the single most dangerous factor other than, perhaps, drunk driving.  Probably drunk drivers have better control over their vehicles than texters.

I conclude with this entry with a sickening feeling regarding the upcoming election.  On board the ship we spoke to a good number of non-Americans, mostly Canadians and Australians all of whom are bewildered as to how a major political party could have nominated a Donald Trump.  All seem to be frightened by the potential crisis of having such a person as the leader of the free world.  Not as much as we, though, I found myself explaining.  The entire drawn out process of pre-election posturing has the feeling of a slow motion train wreck.

Nonetheless, good to be home!

Monday, April 20, 2009


Most of this entry is a “guest post” by my long-time colleague and friend, Danny, who is responding to When a man is tired of London. Our family became close to Danny, his wife, Pat, and his two beautiful daughters, Lisa and Claire. We visited them while we were in London and they stayed with us on a few occasions at our home in Weston, Connecticut.

While Danny was the head of finance at Eurospan, he brought a special gentle demeanor to the position, always so approachable, and with a wonderful droll sense of humor. The two other principals in the business, Peter and his son Michael, were about twenty five years apart in age and I was smack in the middle, along with Danny, so it was not surprising that our two families connected so closely.

Soon after my father died in 1984 I had to go to London on business. Ann and Jonathan accompanied me on that trip. I asked Danny whether we could plant a peace rose bush in my father’s memory in his backyard, something we could see kaleidoscopically grow over the years when we visited. I thought such a gesture particularly appropriate as my father was briefly stationed in the UK during WWII and the Pinner section of London so closely resembled the area of Queens where he lived all his life.

Ann and I flew to Paris for a celebration to mark Eurospan’s 35th anniversary in 2000 and to commemorate Danny’s association with the firm from the beginning (photo to the left is of Danny and Pat at the anniversary). I was asked to say a few words, which of course I was happy to do: “35 years is an eternity for many firms in the publishing business. Eurospan must be doing something right to not only survive in the competitive world of book distribution, but to prosper – even in this era. The genius of Peter, carried on by his son Michael has much to do with this success story but there is another person who bridges those two generations, someone who has done a lot of the heavy lifting. You might say he is the bulwark of Eurospan. Indeed much of Eurospan’s success is due to his hard work and dedication. So congratulations to you, Danny.”

Danny is now retired, as am I. Our children are now fully grown as the photo to the left attests, one of Ann with Lisa and Claire when we visited London after the anniversary. But we will always feel a profound connection, although an ocean away. If my blog does nothing else but to stir the memories of close friends and colleagues I will consider the effort worthwhile. Here was Danny’s email reaction to When a man is tired of London:

What a wonderful blog entry! It really did bring back memories of happy times, and we of course have copies of several of the photos that you have shown. Yes, what memories Number 3(Henrietta Street) carries. Overlooking a busy fruit and vegetable market when we moved in, where we often bought top grade fruit to take home. Certainly the filming of Frenzy before we moved in is fact, as a number of shots in and outside the building are totally recognisable. There was the author/photographer who planned to publish ''Alfred Hitchcock's London'', and took great delight in taking a photo of me 'strangling' one of our staff in the office that Barry Foster performed some of his evil deeds. Also, looking down from my window and seeing Jack Lemmon, who was appearing in a play here, looking up at the building, and me not thinking to simply invite him in before he wandered off. The apparent truth in the story that The Duke of Wellington's mother lived at No. 3, though I think we could not establish absolute confirmation of this when we had the building researched.

The parties at No. 3, and you playing the piano, I think with Howard on the squeeze box (if not on the same occasion then certainly on others). Finally the ghost, that I am as certain as I can be that I saw at the top of the stairs to the basement when closing up the building late one night. Memories, and particularly of you, Ann, Jonathan and Chris when you visited. As mentioned, we do have copies of several of the photos you have shown. I know I have those of the girls skipping along with Jonathan (at the time I think we threw an American football between us in the road outside the house), and the cabbage patch dolls, though I think I would need to dig around among so many others from The UK and The US that we have to find them. Those I do have are the pair you took of the girls in the garden when quite young, to include the one of Lisa that you captured with the sun shining onto her cheeks through the trees, that are both still on our fireplace.

Then there was the fabulous family visit with you, and the memories we all cherish. This to include the night we spent on your boat with the children, being woken because you found the anchor had slipped, and then the wonderful show that the balloons made as they rose into the sky as we made our way back. Also the bay we visited, when the wind whipped up to what I think you described as 'washing machine water', and gave us a bit of a rocky ride in what seemed such lovely weather. Our introduction to Japanese food, with I think a conjuror providing some entertainment as we ate.

Discussing the night on your boat with the girls, Lisa reminded me that there was also an incredible display of 'shooting stars' before we went to bed, followed by the balloons next morning. (Not sure if you use the phrase, but shooting stars is 'English' for meteorites). And when you were at our house, as well as throwing the football, you tried to teach me the finer points of pitching a baseball – by throwing our home-grown apples at a tree trunk. I remember you being a rather talented pitcher!

Claire just mentioned the restaurant you took us to that Paul Newman regularly ate in, and I recall the story of his having been with Robert Redford when they left a car in the Greenwood car park. Another photo we have is of the four Mahers on your boat, that you had mounted on card, and which still sits on our sideboard in the lounge.

We also recall your call when the armed police were crawling over the roofs opposite your hotel bedroom, how nervous you were about getting to your flight the next day, and how we had a taxi driver we knew collect you. Also I recall the story of you alighting from a boat and kissing the ground, though I can not remember what had happened. Many experiences, adventures, and good memories - of both London and Connecticut. (Not forgetting Frankfurt, and among other things standing in front of Colonel Gadaffi's picture at the Libyan stand and falling about laughing, perhaps as retaliation to your experience in the Cavendish Hotel).

Having looked back, let us hope President Obama and the initiatives being shown around the world will indeed lead us to a brighter future than we seem to be currently facing.

Thanks for the memories Bob!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

When a man is tired of London…

...he is tired of life. Samuel Johnson uttered those famous words to his biographer James Bosewell some two hundred and thirty years ago. I’m still basking in the glow of President Obama’s and First Lady Michelle’s London visit to attend the G-20, replaying in my mind the images of London, our President’s news conference and Michelle’s moving visit to a girls school in Islington, north London.

If I could live in any place other than where we have, I would choose London. I often visited there during my career usually to confer with our distributor, Eurospan, run by
my late dear friend, the charismatic Peter Geelan. I would also see numerous UK publishers with whom we traded copublications, or go to the London Bookfair, or stop by London on my way to the Frankfurt Bookfair.

Frequently Ann would accompany me for the London part of the trip so we managed some
vacation time there as well. After staying at several London hotels, including the Dorchester where we had to nearly pole vault into our bed at night, we sort of settled at The Cavendish, which in the Edwardian era was run by Rosa Lewis, the infamous “Duchess of Duke St.” Located across from Fortnum and Mason on the corner of Duke and Jermyn Streets, it is ideally situated near Trafalgar Square, St. James and Piccadilly Circus, the heart of London’s great theatre district where we went as often as our schedule allowed. So it was at this hotel where I would meet Ann during my business travels, and later, we brought Jonathan as well, the first time as young as 14 months old. Here Ann is stepping out of a London taxi having just arrived for one of those visits.

We were at the Cavendish when a young British policewoman was killed in 1984, shot by someone from the nearby Libyan Embassy on St. James Place. Between the Irish Republican Army threats and other clouds of terrorism, traveling in London was sometimes filled with anxiety, but the British people take such adversity in stride. The Cavendish became an armed camp during the standoff with the Libyan Embassy and right outside our window, which had a view to the Embassy, there were police sharpshooters. We slept on a mattress on the floor that evening, along with 8-year-old Jonathan, all of us anxious to stay out of the line of fire. We were leaving the following morning and that standoff lasted at least a week longer.

I treasured going to Eurospan’s offices at 3 Henrietta Street facing the venerable Covent
Garden. This area is rich in literary tradition. Number 3 had housed the publishing home of Gerald Duckworth, Virginia Woolf's stepbrother and no doubt Henry James and John Galsworthy had visited as well, as Duckworth published both. Jane Austen’s brother Henry, a banker, lived at 10 Henrietta Street and she had stayed there when in London, saying the house was “all dirt and confusion, but in a very interesting way.”

The scenes from My Fair Lady that were filmed in Covent Garden were right outside the door of 3 Henrietta Street and, according to Peter, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 film Frenzy was made in the building itself. As per Wikipedia, “much of the location filming was done in and around Covent Garden and was an homage to the London of Hitchcock's childhood. The son of a Covent Garden merchant, Hitchcock filmed several key scenes showing the area as the working produce market that it was. Aware that the area's days as a market were numbered, Hitchcock wanted to record the area as he remembered it….The buildings seen in the film are now occupied by restaurants and nightclubs, and the laneways where merchants and workers once carried their produce are now occupied by tourists and street performers.”

Of course, I remember when Covent Garden was a public square mainly devoted to the fruit and vegetable market, but in its transformation to today’s tourist attraction, its character was mostly retained. Eliza Doolittle might still recognize it while selling flowers from the portico of St Paul's.

While meetings with Eurospan
would easily last the entire day, there was always time for fun in the evenings, sometimes a party at the offices itself, or at Peter’s flat, typically ending in a crowd moving on to dinner at a nearby favorite restaurant. And in those days, and since, London has some of the best food in the world if you’re the guest of someone in the know. When I retired, Peter’s son, Michael who took over the business with his partner, Danny, who was in charge of finance, presented me with a montage of photos of those years, which I proudly display on my bookshelf next to my desk.

When Jonathan was along, Ann and I made it a point to journey by underground to Pinner in west London to visit Danny and his family. Over the years we became close to them and they visited us in the US as well. When my older son Chris, who was a superb high school soccer player, was invited to play in Europe, he stayed with their family and visited English football clubs with Danny, who played competitive amateur football.

Here we are with Mum (Danny’s mother), his wife, Pat, and their two beautiful daughters, Claire
and Lisa. I can still see them all in my mind’s eye, as they were in the photograph here skipping down the streets of Pinner, so reminiscent of the streets of Kew Gardens near where I grew up, obviously modeled after these London environs. One year I hand carried Cabbage Patch dolls for his girls so they would be the first in the UK to have the “prestigious” dolls. When they were introduced in the early 1980’s around Christmas time in the US, there were long lines and even fistfights to get one. Ann was not to be messed with though when she waited on line for them at a local toy store before we journeyed to London.

So I watched the Obama news coverage with a mix of nostalgia and pride, reminded not only of the special kinship the United States has with the United
Kingdom but also of my own close personal ties. It was my fervent hope that as President, because of his political views, his multicultural background, and his leadership abilities, Obama would help repair what, by any objective measure, was diminished respect for the United States abroad.

What better place to start than London town? I had not anticipated what First Lady Michelle would bring to the table. Her speech to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, her genuine, heartfelt emotion, and the outpouring of love to her resonates with reciprocal devotion. And who could not be impressed by the arm in arm embrace with the Queen?

Repairing a tarnished reputation takes time, it takes mutual respect; and if the G-20 accomplished nothing else, it seems to have established the right direction. Perhaps a new sense of confidence begins to percolate the world economy as well because of agreements made at the G-20. So much remains to be seen on that score and I have been pessimistic by the accelerating debt that is being incurred. But as economics relates to trust, in the system, and between nations, this may be a start to break the vicious cycle of gloom and doom.

I was struck by President Obama’s news conference, where he seems so much at ease, affable, and his responses clearly belie the attacks by some of his critics as his being teleprompter dependent (as if his predecessor was not). I conclude with the question that was posed by Jonathan Weisman, the Washington Post Congressional reporter, about America’s standing in the world and our President’s reply. It’s the kind of truth that does inspire the “hope” that became a campaign mantra.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign you often spoke of a diminished power and authority of the United States over the last decade. This is your first time in an international summit like this, and I'm wondering what evidence you saw of what you spoke of during the campaign. And specifically, is the declaration of the end of the Washington consensus evidence of the diminished authority that you feared was out there?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, during the campaign I did not say that some of that loss of authority was inevitable. I said it was traced to very specific decisions that the previous administration had made that I believed had lowered our standing in the world. And that wasn't simply my opinion; that was, it turns out, the opinion of many people around the world.

I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we've made, that you're starting to see some restoration of America's standing in the world. And although, as you know, I always mistrust polls, international polls seem to indicate that you're seeing people more hopeful about America's leadership.

Now, we remain the largest economy in the world by a pretty significant margin. We remain the most powerful military on Earth. Our production of culture, our politics, our media still have — I didn't mean to say that with such scorn, guys ... you know I'm teasing — still has enormous influence. And so I do not buy into the notion that America can't lead in the world. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think that we had important things to contribute.

I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions. Just a — just to try to crystallize the example, there's been a lot of comparison here about Bretton Woods. "Oh, well, last time you saw the entire international architecture being remade." Well, if there's just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that's a — that's an easier negotiation. But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in.

And so that's not a loss for America; it's an appreciation that Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt, is a powerhouse. China, India — these are all countries on the move. And that's good. That means there are millions of people — billions of people — who are working their way out of poverty. And over time, that potentially makes this a much more peaceful world.

And that's the kind of leadership we need to show — one that helps guide that process of orderly integration without taking our eyes off the fact that it's only as good as the benefits of individual families, individual children: Is it giving them more opportunity; is it giving them a better life? If we judge ourselves by those standards, then I think America can continue to show leadership for a very long time.