Zara: To Make You Feel My Love

NEW WEST LONDON PIZZERIA: ZIA LUCIA

It might be a little early to review the new Zia Lucia that opened last Saturday night in Brook Green. But I can’t help myself! My main takeaway? You can have absolutely delicious, mouth-wateringly good pizza without having that heavy, bloated feeling afterwards. Guilt-free and yummy. Their secret is below.HHPV9700I know what you are thinking. Yes, the pizzas are that good.

Zia Lucia is the the second hatchling from a young group of vibrant, energetic Italians hailing from Venice who have known each other for years.  Zia means “aunt” and Auntie Lucia’s love of food and community inspired Gianluca and Claudio to open the first Zia Lucia in Islington last year.  An instant success, they decided to try their hand in West London and last Saturday night opened Zia Lucia on Blythe Road in Brook Green (Hammersmith).

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The queue outside the new Zia Lucia on Blythe Road in Brook Green last Saturday night. I worried that the upmarket, more residential Brook Green would be a tougher crowd to break into — and please — but based on the queue outside and the happy customers inside, there was no need.

The wood-burning ovens — respectively named Dante and Wally —  are a big hit, delivering true Italian crusts. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, doughy on the inside with melted toppings in such a wide range that it takes a while to decide what to order: artichokes, rocket, honey, figs, traditional basil and mozzarella, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, the list is endless. I don’t know where they source their goods, but while eating my pepperoni pizza with black olives and mozzarella, I was transported to Italy, where everything tastes better.

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As someone whose palate and diet has changed over the years, I can no longer eat a lot of bread, particularly white bread. As much as I love it, my gut has become more sensitive and my daily routine means little or no starch.

What Zia Lucia does with its crust is sensational. They offer 4 to 5 different crusts to choose from: traditional, wholemeal, charcoal vegetarian, gluten-free, and on the Islington menu (and if you ask at the Brook Green restaurant), a moringa green dough.

What is moringa, you ask?  At our table of six, it seems all the under 35s knew about it. The seeds, pods and leaves come from the moringa oleifera tree, or “the drumstick tree” found in Nepal and India, that Wellness Mama explains: “is touted as a superfood since it is rich in nutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds”.

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This wide variety of dough is enticing to even the most allergic of eaters. At our table, we had collectively one of everything except the gluten-free. My charcoal vegetarian crust was absolutely delicious. Tasty with that charcoal edge to it, and far from bland. The tomato sauce and mozzarella were perfectly proportioned and all of our toppings were fresh and sizzling when arriving at the table.

But most important, after eating nearly all the pizza, I woke up the next morning feeling…fine! Not bloated, not heavy, not that weighed down feeling you get after eating that much dough. It was a revelation for me that I could enjoy a night out without the guilt. My husband enjoyed the wholemeal dough and our daughter had the traditional — all 2 thumbs up. Another dinner guest had the moringa dough as he’s a huge fan of the Islington branch.

The decor is light and simple, lots of exposed brick, whitewashed walls and simple wooden tables. But the ambience is warm and cozy, and they fit in quite a few covers both upstairs and down in this small townhouse space.

The antipasti starters were very good, although I’d love to see a little more variety, but again, very fresh ingredients and very healthy.  There was a good variety of beers, both local and abroad, and they offer a “spritz”, an Italian drink to start your night, of aperol and prosecco. Not my cup of tea, but they were so proud and excited to share this Italian tradition I felt bad for not trying one!

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Like all places that just open, they have to iron out some of the kinks (I think they were working through the night prior to opening, making last minute adjustments), but with the very decent price tag, divine food — particularly on a cold winter’s night — and the warm, bubbly atmosphere, I’m sure this place will be a hit.  With all the various private and public schools nearby, as well as the residential homes and many businesses, this will be a regular local hangout.

Bravo to Claudio, Gianluca, Priscilla and all the team at Zia Lucia. Looking forward to going back for a second and third and fourth visit. The neighbourhood just got that much better!

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MY FAVOURITE RESTAURANT IN LONDON

Everyone who’s visited us over the past 7 years (and many who haven’t) all know my favourite restaurant in London is Nopi. Nopi is a creation of chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, two creative and brilliant additions to London cuisine, combining Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods in their now famous delis and restaurants dotted across the city.

When I first arrived here in 2010, there was a buzz about Ottolenghi. Everyone told me I must get the new cookbook of the same name.  Combining roasted aubergine (eggplant) with saffron yoghurt, basil leaves and pomegranate seeds introduced a burst of flavours I would never have put together.  Or cauliflower and cumin fritters with a lime yoghurt. Manuri cheese grilled and served with courgettes (zucchini) and chargrilled asparagus.  These new taste sensations excited the palate with exotic foods and flavours.

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I heard about the deli in Notting Hill/Westbourne Grove first but when someone told me about Nopi, my friend Shannon and I started meeting there at 5:30 for a pre-ballet dinner at the ROH.

It’s tucked away in Mayfair but close to Piccadilly Circus so easy to get to. For me, there’s so much to like about a restaurant but to be really good, it needs to tick all the boxes. Great atmosphere and vibe. Tick. Excellent service and professional and polite staff. Tick.   Not too far away and convenient. Tick. Doesn’t break the bank. Tick. And of course, the food. Big big tick. Added bonus: healthy. Another tick.

They do small plates or “tapas” of multiple mouth-watering creations: a variety garden vegetables and fruits, figs with cheese and honey, cheese with apricots, various meats, poultry and fish, and those delicious courgette fritters with lime yoghurt are divine.  Recently, they’ve added a starter of burnt spring onion dip with seeded dukkah and every time I’ve gone, we are practically licking the bowl. The fish like sea bass or plaice is perfectly cooked and combined with flavours of burnt butter, nori and ginger or calabrese peppers.  My dinner companion recently had smoked beef with pickled Jerusalem artichokes and it’s far more appetising than it sounds.  And an absolute must is the truffled polenta chips with parmesan and aioli — we order them every time and they melt in your mouth with a unique combination of subtle and strong flavours.

Desserts are something to look forward to, and I hate dessert. But the creativity they pour into them can’t be missed.  The coffee and pecan financiers with maple cream are sublime, as is the apple and gingerbread trifle with Calvados and celery sorbet.

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But beyond the food, the look and feel of the restaurant is cool, nice, sophisticated, fun, and cozy. Doesn’t take itself too seriously, doesn’t need to be pretentious, just relies on the good food and professional staff. The white-washed brick walls, warm lighting, blond wood, sparse decorations and clean lines combine modern with traditional in a welcoming way.

But what really sets Nopi apart is the seemingly two restaurants in one. Upstairs is booked tables of 2, 4 and 6 with a lovely bar at the back.  For Friday and Saturday nights, you often have to book several weeks — sometimes months — in advance.  A little more formal and fancy, feeling special as others line up at the bar or door waiting for a table.

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However, the downstairs has a completely different feel with it’s two large communal tables, seating 14 at each table, right next to the open plan kitchen.  It’s down here that I’ve found myself – on nights fully booked upstairs – with an out of town friend, eating and drinking and catching up, while listening into or joining into conversations around the table.  Everyone has their space and respects privacy, but there’s a camaraderie amongst the diners who know they’ve dropped in on a little secret that others don’t know about.  We’ve met some businessmen from Australia at that table, a few American women for a pre-theatre meal, a young couple on a date, and more.

One time I was there with a State-side friend, staying quite a long time while she would order one or two dishes, as this was her first visit, and then order one or two more. At one point, chef Ramael Scully just started bringing over different small dishes for us to try as he could tell she was not sure how to navigate so many choices. That personal touch has made the downstairs difficult to find seats in now, and you must book in advance.

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They love to put different and new wines on their list and for a long time they had a wonderful Sancerre which I’m disappointed is no longer there, but they continue to surprise with off-the-beaten path choices, and the staff are all very knowledgeable with the menu.  For a long time, the manager Fergus set the tone for his “regulars” – recently I was meeting out-of-towners there, arrived early and sat at the bar where he sent over glasses of prosecco and some nibbles.  I am sorry to find he has gone back to his beloved Ireland, and although he is irreplaceable, I hope they find someone with his same combination of friendliness, professionalism, high-standards and attention to detail.

So when in London, do yourself a favour and head over to Nopi. It will be well worth the trip. Lastly, don’t forget to check out the bathrooms. I can’t say why, but needless to say, they are very fun and somewhat trippy. On my very first time to Nopi, I had a bit too much to drink and when I got in loo, I couldn’t find my way out! But, can’t give it away, you’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

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IVF & THE IRAQI AMBASSADOR: Tales of Infertility

THE SET UP

Where do I start? For anyone who’s gone through it, you understand.  It’s tough. Insane. It’s a secret sisterhood.  The injections, the drugs, the blood tests, the weight gain, the crazy hormones.  We nod in a shared acknowledgment when we meet another who’s gone through the private, very painful, hell.  Some need sensitivity to cope, others find humour helps, and often we’ll seek out new alternative avenues (homeopathy, religion, acupuncture, yams) to help reduce the stress and find solace on the path to fertility.

For those lucky women who haven’t endured this unexpected twist of fate (I have friends who get pregnant when their husband just looks at them. Grrr.), it’s quite hard to explain just how mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting  IVF is for women (and by extension, their partners).  It can break you.  Or the marriage. And unfortunately, that sisterhood which bonds us ends up dividing us at the end of this challenge — those who successfully deliver a newborn baby, and those who don’t.

I got married “late” by society standards. I loved my job at ABCNews/Nightline and was in no hurry to do the marriage and family thing. I went off the pill just before we married at 36 years old. After 6 months and a doctor’s check up, I was told I had “hypothyroidism”- a condition which 30% of all women in their 30s have but most don’t know it.  It contributes to a higher rate of miscarriages, so I started on levothyroxin (synthroid in the US) and we kept going.

By 37, after both my husband and I had a comprehensive battery of tests,  it was determined that “on paper” I should be getting pregnant. Healthy, fit – perhaps somewhat stressed – but no alarm bells.  My FSH levels (follicle stimulating hormones) were good, as were my levels of oestrogen and progesterone.  We did IUI twice and nothing, so my doctor suggested we jump right to IVF as time was not on my side.

We went to a doctor said to be “the best” on the cover of Washingtonian magazine. A tall, handsome Chinese man with a calm and unpatronising demeanour, he explained to us the statistics that all IVF doctors look at. Charts and graphs showing your age going up and the viability of your eggs heading south — a huge drop off after 35 yrs old.

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I felt a bit foolish – with all the news stories I had covered – knowing so little about something so fundamental. I didn’t know that even as a healthy 20-something, you have a one in four chance of getting pregnant at each try. So by their rule of thumb, if you do 4 rounds of IVF, you should get pregnant (25% chance each time).  I started on a round of injections, drugs and doctor’s visits for blood tests.

In my head, I was “fixing” the problem. That’s the kind of person I am. A doer. Proactive. Don’t sit around and complain or worry, just get up and do something. But psychologically I had taken a blow. I could not comprehend that, from an evolutionary perspective, the one thing women are put on this earth to do, I couldn’t do. My animal instinct kicked in massively and I was devastated that I was somehow less – female – than everyone else. The insecurity planted firmly in my gut. I doubted my femininity. I wondered whether God or someone was telling me I couldn’t be a mother.  But I pushed the doubts away. I can do this! One round and we’ll be fine, I told myself.

THE FIRST TRY (or WHAT JUST HAPPENED??)

I learned how to fill needles from the vials they gave us, do that doctor thing you see in movies and tap them to get all the air holes out, and then stick the needle sub-cutaneously (under the skin) into my lower belly or the upper bottom, switching locations to avoid bruising.  The doctor told me the hormones I was injecting (to stimulate egg production) would make me bloated and perhaps irritable or weepy. I was determined not to let this affect my work or my routines so I would slip into the bathrooms at work to shoot myself up, so to speak.

At the appropriate time we went into the hospital for the operation (an anaesthetist puts you under for about 45 minutes), and later they told me I had produced 12 eggs.  Yay! They fertilised them and then watched them as they started to grow.  We went back a few days later to find 6-8 eggs looked very good but they decided to implant only the 2 best. Our hubris and optimism (stupidity?) was fatal in the end, as when they asked us if we wanted to freeze the other eggs we said no.

In the operating room for implantation, our lovely doctor had created a ‘safe space’ before there was such a word. Everyone, including my husband, was wearing surgical scrubs and masks to ensure we were in a germ-free environment. Surrounded by nurses soothingly holding my hand and stroking my forehead, we listened to lovely strains of Mozart piped in to overhead speakers.

At one end of the room the doctor opened a little sliding window and the embryologist handed off the two fertilised eggs that are attached to the end of a tiny catheter that is like a wet spaghetti noodle.  The doctor is then supposed to put this into the uterus and the eggs should attach to the uterus wall and start to grow.

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However, somewhere along the way in this process I suddenly realised the nurses had stopped cooing, they weren’t rubbing my hand nor even making eye contact. They’d moved away and were busying themselves in a nervous way.  My husband looked lost and we could feel the tension in the room.  Our doctor stood up stiffly, declaring resolutely “We’ve got a problem. I’ve dropped the eggs.”

I seriously could not comprehend what had just happened. I got up on my elbows (I was lying on my back with legs askew), looked over the edge of the operating table and said “Well, where are they? Can’t you just pick them up?” We were dumbfounded.  The embryologist had shut the window quickly — it was like they had just exposed us to a lethal disease and wanted to get as far away as possible. They quickly wheeled me out and into the ‘recovery room’ where we waited for our doctor. He came in, visibly upset, pulled up a chair, grabbed a ballpoint pen, and without anything better to write on, he started furiously stabbing at his leg, scribbling drawings and diagrams on his scrubs, explaining that as the wet-noodle catheter went up my cervix, it got caught on a ridge in my cervix and the eggs dropped off.

I still didn’t fully understand. Won’t they just swim up the rest of the way? Can’t I do a head-stand and they will drop into my uterus? Couldn’t they just hang out and grow there? He said sperm, on their own, swim. But eggs don’t. They just drop. And they won’t grow in the cervix.  He said in the thousands of times he had done this operation, and he stressed thousands, this had never, ever happened. He was horrified. He immediately said we can put in the frozen eggs to which we had to explain we told the embryologist to dispose of the extras. D’oh! He then said he’d pay for the next round. And use a hard-noodle catheter — less comfortable, but more sturdy to get over my nuisance of a cervix-ridge. As miserable as he was, I had lots of faith in him, and truth be told, when I thought about it later, he didn’t have to tell us he had ‘dropped’ the eggs. He could have “placed” them inside, and we would have been none the wiser.

But on the way home, what should have been a celebration, was a numb, silent drive where we sat there wondering what had just happened. All the build up over the weeks, the nerves, the emotions, the energy and excitement focused on this moment, sure that all would go fine, faded away and then we left with…nothing.  It was very sobering, and the beginning of a long and crazy path.

IVF & THE IRAQI AMBASSADOR

After that first disastrous IVF, the rest of them became a blur.

For context, this was 2001-2003, right after 9/11 and we were about to go to war with Iraq. We were working long, stressful days at Nightline after that fateful September morning. Our office was assigning teams to be deployed to Kuwait and the Iraqi border in anticipation of war. We had to fill out paperwork with our blood type, just in case. My doctor said “Is there any way you could take a break from work? There is so much we scientists don’t know, but we do know that stress seems to play a big factor in getting pregnant.” I told him if he wanted to keep getting paid, I needed to keep my job. At the time, IVF was about $15,000-$20,000 a pop and the health policies/laws usually allowed for only 1 or 2 to be partially covered up to a certain age (which I believe was 40 at the time).  After that, you were on your own.

On a trip up to NYC with my boss (male) on the Delta Shuttle from Washington, I remember being horrified as I realised I had my needles and vials in my backpack.  I got to the counter early and explained to the agent that we had to go up to New York to talk with the Iraqi Ambassador at the Consulate and I’m in the middle of my cycle and I have to take my medicines, but I can’t let my Executive Producer see the needles, I’m just a Producer, it’d be so embarrassing and I can’t check my backpack, that would slow us down and I’d look like an fool.  I was lucky the agent believed me. Plus this was still fairly recent post 9/11, and the strict rules were you couldn’t undo your seatbelt until 15 minutes after take off or 15 minutes before landing, and since the DC-NYC flight was half-hour, no one was moving.

Once in New York, we met with the Iraqis as they were, literally, packing up the Consulate. The US had ordered them to leave the country in a few days, ahead of the war that was imminent. I had to remember to not shake anyone’s hands during our introductions – their protocol dictates no physical contact with strange women – and I wore appropriate clothes, covering my knees, shoulders and hair, out of respect.

Amidst cardboard boxes, packing tape, and bubble wrap we sat in a beautiful room carpeted with intricate middle eastern rugs and spoke to the Ambassador about the ties we hoped to keep once war broke out.  We stated our case for keeping our lines of communication open. His press people and our sources would be in demand.  As we drank our tea out of a beautiful silver service, I interrupted: Ah, excuse me? Mr. Ambassador? Could you show me to the ladies room please?

One thing you might have guessed with IVF cycles is you are on a strict schedule and monthly calendar, and you had to inject the drugs at certain times of day in order for them to have maximum effectiveness. So there I was in the middle of the Iraqi Ambassador’s bathroom, shooting up, security cameras on me the whole time.  I left the vials and needles in the trashcan and wondered whether they thought I was a drug addict rather than someone desperately trying to get pregnant.

COPING & BECOMING UNHINGED

As a journalist, humour gets you through the darker stories you have to cover and you compartmentalise and shelve emotions so I erred towards that as a coping mechanism. But I am not one who is good with keeping things bottled up.  I needed to talk about it — with close friends and family, some co-workers. Not an emotional cry for sympathy. No, I just needed them to know what I was going through in order to give me the wide berth I required at times, or to understand why I might not be operating at 100%. I told my anchor and my executive producer in private and they were wonderful not only in respecting what I was going through, but in being genuinely curious about it. They were also shocked to find out that, in our private conversations, three other women in the office were going through it as well.

My doctor told me it’s important to take 2 months off in between IVF cycles to allow your body to recover from a month of intense hormonal injections, an operation, and post-op. Of course, I was impatient and sure I would ‘win’ on the next round. Looking back, I think successful career women in their 30s have a particularly difficult time with this because everything that has been thrown at them until now, they’ve been able to turn into gold. They are high-achieving, tenacious, ambitious, and successful perfectionists — in every aspect of their lives but one. How can this elude them?

In the blur of the next 3 rounds, here’s what I remember:

I started sticking the needles in intramuscularly (just stabbed it straight into my thigh or leg) as my belly and upper ass were getting very bruised and sore.

I remember being at a friend’s wedding and excusing myself while i pulled out my vials and needles and shot up in the Hay-Adams Hotel rooftop bathroom.

I gave away 4 tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert because I feared standing and jumping around for 4 hours would increase the risk of the eggs falling out. (The doctors always tell you to go home and rest, put pillows under your bum, for the next several days. Didn’t that include “No Stadium Concerts”?).

I read somewhere that eating ginger makes you miscarry. I stopped eating ginger.

I read that eating yams will make you pregnant. I started eating yams and realised why I hadn’t before. I looked up recipes for yams to make them taste good and we had yams every night for a week. I think my husband was verging throwing up every time, but he didn’t say a word.

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I cried on the floor of my bedroom, completely overwhelmed with it all, bruises on my ass, needles by my side.

I went to church and prayed. Oh, Lord, did I pray. I asked for one thing, just one, and I said I would never, ever ask for anything else. Ever. I reasoned with God that when I did pray, I usually asked for help with others (the usual family and friends, pets, then I’d broaden it out to people in suffering countries, war zones, poverty, etc. Strangely, I’d always include travellers and this list would start with planes and cars and trains. But then I’d think about boats and refugees, or trains in India, or busses in South America, so my “Let all travellers get home safely today” prayer was usually very long).  But this one time, I was asking for something solely for myself. Just this once. I promised I would never do it again.

I remember with one cycle, eggs implanted and we were on the way home from the hospital, the sun was shining, my legs up on the dashboard, with the seat rolled down to almost horizontal. My husband and I are at a stop light, and he turns to me and says “Perhaps we should have a cigarette? We sorta just had sex, right?” His sense of humour kept me sane through this whole process.  There is absolutely no way I could have gotten through it without him. He was supportive, unwavering, caring, tender, and very funny. But we’ve talked since then about how medical and unromantic it was. Men tend to be fixers. This process must be extremely difficult for them too.  Anyway, he was my rock. We laughed the rest of the way home with the pillow under my bum and my feet against the windshield.

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My op and post-op demeanour was something to behold, apparently.  I’d try to talk with the doctor and nurses during the operations, pretending we had just run into each other at Starbuck’s. How are you? I would slur. Busy day? What’s your middle name? Reginald is a fabulous name!

Post-op, I was loopy but convinced I was absolutely fine. One time, I remember arguing in between giggle fits with my husband in the parking lot, convinced I was fine to drive us home (I’m fine. Of course I’m fine. FINE! I’m fine.). I sooo wasn’t fine. And he drove.

Another time, we had gotten home and I went to bed but had a call from a 4-Star General talking to me about an interview.  I had been trying to get him forever and this was a coup.  I had a long, completely coherent conversation with him, hung up, and flopped back on the bed asleep. Later, i couldn’t remember anything we discussed.

THE END GAME

At some point along the way, we had to face the reality and I needed to categorise and separate the emotions with the outcome. I had to think logically. Talking to my husband I said “What is our final goal here? At the end of this long journey, what is the brass ring?We want to be parents, right? We want to be parents of one or more children and raise them in a loving family.”  With that as our end goal, I then worked backwards as to how to get there. And looking at it that way, there were many options.

Yes, there were biological urges to be able to have a baby that genetically came from both of us, but if that avenue was exhausted there were others we could try.  There was egg donation; surrogate mothers to carry the embryos; we could pursue adoption. But initially, we absolutely wanted to try for our own child.

By the fourth attempt (5th try, after that disastrous first one which I don’t count), we’d been at it for nearly 18 months. I was reaching my breaking point.  I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m not sure I can carry on.” I felt like a bloated pin cushion and the months of trying were wearing on me. There’s only so much rejection one can take.

Whether it was the yams or the praying, or both, something worked. In the past, I’d had a few false positives only to be told the pregnancy numbers weren’t high enough and I would miscarry in the next week or so. This time my numbers were triple what they should be. I was very pregnant.

After all that effort, focus, time, energy, money, and stress, with just one short phone call from the doctor’s office, the news can be heartbreaking in sadness or heart bursting with happiness.  I will never, ever forget that day and the tears of joy that completely caught me off guard.  We went on to try another 4 times after our little girl arrived, but it wasn’t meant to be. Remember, I promised not to ask for anything else. While in South Africa, I nearly died with complications at 18 weeks pregnant.  That was long ago now, and we’ve got a typical teen – eye rolling, heavy sighs, attitude – who just this morning asked me to help quiz her on her Latin exam. She has no idea what her parents went through to bring her into the world. Kids these days, right?

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In Honour of the Prescient Langston Hughes

Today is the anniversary of poet Langston Hughes birth.  I’m sure many of you know him and his works, but there are 3 poems of Mr. Hughes that I have loved for years. The first was introduced to me by my sister when we were in high school. Never a big poetry fan, this poem was short and sweet and to the point, and most important, I got it! In my very literal mind, it was profound AND easy and stuck with me ever since:

DREAMS

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

 

The next two came from a small pamphlet I got in one of my careers/jobs — either while at The White House or at ABC News/Nightline.

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This little book contains 9 poems that, through the years, have meant something different and revealed new truths every time I read them.

In today’s world, this one carries so much meaning:

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These words stick with me: There is a dream in the land\With its back against the wall.\ By muddled names and strange\Sometimes the dream is called.\\There are those who claim\This dream for theirs alone — \A sin for which we know\They must atone.

And further down: The dream knows no frontier or tongue,\The dream no class or race.\The dream cannot be kept secure\In any one looked place.\\This dream today embattled,\With its back against the wall –\\To save the dream for one\It must be saved for ALL –\Our dream of freedom!

I think all people in the United States and the U.K. can appreciate and understand this poem — and its relevance — in today’s world.

But a longer poem he wrote is equally as profound and prescient. Titled “Let America Be America Again”, it was originally published in the July 1936 issues of Esquire magazine. In this poem, Hughes contrasts his hopes for America with the true reality of life amongst social and economic outcasts. As he saw it, there were dominant groups (racial, economic, social, religious) and the wedge between those who were “in” and those who were “out” had only grown to a breaking point. Reading it again brings to mind the civil and economic unrest I see in both the US and UK today.

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A poet worth remembering, whose words seep into you and stay with you as they reach deeper and deeper levels. I leave you with one last poem, a man whose birth, and life, and death, should be honoured.

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DAVOS’ CARBON FOOTPRINT?

I feel like Davos has started to turn into the White House Correspondents Dinner where it becomes — for many — just a place to see and be seen (started? some say it’s been this way for a while).  An opportunity to feel self-important and rub shoulders with world leaders and celebrities alike, all touting their causes.  Don’t get me wrong — if I got an invite of course I’d go. But it is a bit of a bubble, isn’t it? Who’s been invited to whose party? Did you see Bono? What about Justin Trudeau? Is Elton John going to Tina Brown’s party? What about the Clintons or Macron?

Participants would say there is a lot of good being done for the world at the World Economic Forum’s annual meetings nestled in this alpine Swiss ski resort town. Historically, they are right. There have been memorable moments or key policy breakthroughs: in 1992 when Mandela attended with de Klerk, or in 1994 when Arafat and Peres reached an agreement on Gaza and Jericho (which I remember as I was working for Gergen in the Clinton White House at the time and this was ahead of the Peace Treaty Signing on the South Lawn).  And WEF over the decades has contributed to huge policy changes globally.  But now, I get the impression that it’s more pomp and circumstance than real commitments and change.

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A private jet burns as much fuel in one hour as a car does in a year

But what really gets my goat is people not committing personally to causes they ascribe to globally.  Change starts on our own doorsteps. Stop talking about it and do it.  The climate change issue has been a big one with WEF for decades. But that doesn’t stop the 3,000 participants (plus all their entourages this bloats to around 15,000) from taking private jets, helicopters, limousines and SUV’s to get there.  The theme of the week, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”, sorta says it all doesn’t it? So fractured that they cannot see how they are adding to the very problems they are discussing.

Grist analysed the estimated carbon footprint of all the participants in 2013 and how much each would have produced to get to Davos.  They used a figure of .21 kilograms per passenger per kilometre for a flight, and 22 kilograms for a three-hour train trip, per person. The total CO2 emissions just for travel by the participants to get there was estimated at 2,520 metric tonnes. Not a huge amount in the scheme of things, but with a global urge to reduce fossil fuels, this doesn’t jibe. And this analysis doesn’t include anyone else (entourage, travelling staff) or anything used outside of plane and train travel.

In 2015, it was reported that there were 1700 private jets flying to/from Zurich (closest airport). To put into perspective, a private jet burns as much fuel in one hour as a car does in a year. This year reports show that number is closer to just over 1,000 which, if true, is a good reduction.  But still the number of private jets arriving at local airports has spiked from an average of 65 flights/day to 218.

I don’t necessarily blame the participants, either.  WEF is as much – if not more so – responsible for changing this irresponsible personal habit (or luxury to the rest of us). Why not move the location to somewhere more easily accessible and not so tiny? They could require participants to carpool (or jet-share, if that’s a term). Hey! Cate Blanchett! Got room in your limo for one more? Prince Turki, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia needs a ride back. Could he hitch a ride on your private plane?

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They could work with Swiss authorities to charter special trains to bring the participants up the mountain en masse. They could ask participants who are renting SUV’s or limos to make sure they are FULL before heading up the mountain (full disclosure: I went to a conference once where the topic was environmental sustainability and everyone was driving their own individual SUV everywhere). They could move the whole event to an enormous field in Devon a la Glastonbury or California a la Coachella. They could do the whole event all online and tout it as the first global online videoconference and get tech geniuses from around the world to make it excellent quality.

We are all to blame for our own excesses, but we have to start somewhere if we are really going to change and save the world. My husband plunges us into darkness with his electricity saving techniques (he’s convinced the secret to financial success is going to be from the money we save as a result of low electric and heating bills).  The thermostat is a constant battle. The brain surgery precision that comes with separating (and washing) the recycling in West London will do anyone’s head in. But I can’t win with any arguments I throw at him and ultimately I’ve caved. He’s right. I’m culpable. We all have to do our little part to help. It’s likely going to inconvenience us all a bit, but these are 1st world problems, not 3rd.  If that means you drive an electric car, or take your canvas bags to the supermarket, great. Whatever it takes.

WEF leaders and participants could learn from Leo DiCaprio’s mistakes. Last July, he got called out for taking a private plane to accept an environmental award and realised the hypocrisy.  He has now ditched the private plane (I know, tragic, right?) and flies commercial. But bravo for starting somewhere. We are so used to having a choice, and these things are all luxuries, relatively speaking. Seriously. We all need to be inconvenienced a little more. Every drop in the bucket helps. And think about it, if you saw several world leaders sharing a ride in a Prius to go to one of these events, the power of the words and policies they deliver will be that much more effective.

DAUGHTERS & MATHS: YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO THIS

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I can’t wait to get home tonight and listen to the Eugenia Cheng on Radio 4 this morning again, but this time with my 13-yr-old daughter.  It is so refreshing to hear someone have such a passion for what he/she does. And to explain it in a way that is ACCESSIBLE to all. 

She’s very funny when talking about the misconceptions the public has of mathematicians: “I’m not one of those people who can multiply large numbers in my head,” she laughs, “No! That’s not what we do all day!”

Replace those preconceived notions with new ones1) maths is not boring  2) you can have an interesting and well-paying job in maths 3) you can travel the globe with a maths job  4) maths is not just for boys.

It’s almost a half-hour long but flies by. Here are my key takeaways:

  • Eugenia is on a mission of ridding the world of maths phobia
  • Maths & baking have lots of similarities (as well as maths & music) — in both you are putting together a lot of ingredients and seeing whether they work or not.
  • You use lots of maths in baking. A mille feuille (delicious French pastry they often attempt on GBBO) involves rolling a pastry out and then folding it into 3, and then you roll it out again and fold into 3 again. You just need to do this 6 times and you have made more than a 1000 layers (ergo the name). Unknown-4
  • Feeling confused about math along the way? This is part of the path. Your brain will stretch.  Her childhood piano teacher would give her pieces that were way to hard for her.  She practiced and practiced and once she got to a point where she was just mastering it, her teacher would give her another, even harder piece. Maths is the same. At first it’s confusing and too hard. And then it’s not. Unknown-5
  • She goes to bars to work on her maths (love that!)
  • Good maths comes out of being lazy. It’s not about getting the right answers. She explains to her students: to be more efficient is to be lazy.  You don’t want to do the same thing over and over again so then you think, why do this over again? So let’s come up with a theory so that we don’t have to do it over and over — we’ve made it easier, quicker, simpler that way. More efficient.
  • Combine your passions for something you like to do. Recognise your strengths that are unique to you. Her mother was  “searingly” logical and her Dad was intuitive, and she feels like she got both those qualities.
  • Don’t listen to stereotypes.

On these last two takeaways, her wise words are worth delving into further.

COMBINE YOURS STRENGTHS

One of the things I’ve told my university students over the years is that I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I was not one of those people who knew at the age of 16 what I wanted to do or be.

I’ve also told my students that you need to think about your strengths and use them. What makes you unique? I was smart enough but not very academic. And definitely not the smartest. I was told I was a “people person”, which I came to hate after a while. What the heck am I going to do with that? I thought.

But here’s where she crystallises what I came to realise after years of transitioning from one job to another. I was gravitating towards my strengths and applying them. On paper, yes, I have had an amazing career — surpassing any and all expectations — living and working in Argentina on my own; working in the White House; working at ABC News/Nightline, with 5 Emmys, a Peabody and a Thurgood Marshall Award for Justice to remind me of all the hard, but worthy, work; working at Foreign Policy magazine; and here in London with IES and Global Change Network. But in each of these positions, I combined strengths, priorities and environment to figure out the best path.

Eugenia makes her path sound so simple. She started GCSE’s doing maths and physics. But then she thought ‘what if I only did maths? Because that’s what I really like’. So she did just maths for her A-levels. At Cambridge, she thought ‘I really like pure maths, not applied maths’ What if I just focus on that? So she narrowed her courses. Before graduating, she thought it’d be really nice to do just algebra. Because that’s what she loves most. For her Master’s, it was category theory that captivated her. For her PhD she decided on higher dimension category theory. My high school’s motto was “Viam inveniam aut faciam” which is Latin for “I shall either find a way or make one”, something Eugenia clearly ascribed to.

After securing a Professorship at the University of Sheffield, she decided to leave. Kudos to interviewer Jim Al-Khalili for pushing her on this decision. Her response encapsulates what my subconscious told me all along (paraphrasing):

“How do I make my own way and have more effect? So I took the category theory approach to life. If you can’t be the biggest fish in the pond, what do you do? You can either grow or move to a smaller pond.  In category theory, you move to the smaller pond and look at more characteristics. I’m not the best mathematician in the world and I’m not the best public speaker in the world. But maybe I could be the best at both: a mathematician who is also a public speaker. The more things you pile on the more likely you are going to be the best of those unique combination of things.”  

She wanted to do maths and communications. She said “find all the things you are good at. Make a list. And figure out how to bring all those things together.” She said if she stopped teaching, someone would easily take her place.  But someone who can explain maths to non-mathematicians in an accessible way is unique.

Admittedly, when she mentioned she was of Chinese origin with a mathematician mother I immediately, and wrongly, thought Ah, well, that’s it. High-achieving parents, extremely disciplined, driven kids – no wonder. She did say she and her sister would fight over who got to practice on the piano (just the opposite of my sister & I  — my Mom would make us sit down to practice for an hour or no dinner).  But the overall context of her message is not who’s going to be hard-working or over-achieving or the best, it’s more about figuring out all the things you are good at and what makes you happy.

DON’T STEREOTYPE

Like Eugenia, I had parents that always instilled in me and my sister that we could be or do anything a man could. We both had no hesitation going out into the world and seeking a career, a profession, rather than a job.

From a very young age, Eugenia watched her Mom put on a suit and go to the City with briefcase in hand. Her Dad and sister would wait at the train to pick her up – a lone female amongst all the males. And it wasn’t until much later that she realised how unusual this was.

Before going to Cambridge, she was warned by her director of studies that it would be male-dominated and full of boys who will all be better than you. They will have been pushed very hard to overachieve. She thought she’d be the worst, so she was pleasantly surprised when she wasn’t the absolute worst in the class. “I had to learn to deal with their arrogance. They had been pushed hard and when they got there they breezed through. And I was surprised when later, my perseverance was helpful. As we had to work incredibly hard for our PhD’s, they had forgotten how to work hard and they fell by the wayside and I carried on.” She knocked down those stereotypes without flinching.

Kudos to Jim Al-Khalili for bringing the best out of her — he clearly loves this issue. Eugenia says “Who is combatting stereotypes of mathematicians? People assume to be a mathematician you have to be old and weird and have no friends; they must be older white guys who can’t make eye contact or are socially inept. Who will help rid the world of maths phobia with a message for the broader audience?” That is the void she hopes to fill. With this interview, she smashed it.

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BRITS VS YANKS: Government (Shutdown)

As we look across the pond at the government shut-down in the US, I suspect many here are wondering how the heck this could happen (and trust me, many back home are thinking the same thing). As similar as our democratic systems are, it points to the striking differences between how our governments operate. Whose is better?

To start with, Brits vote for a party. Americans vote for a person (be it a Senator or Congressman or President). So in the US, you can have a ballot where you vote for your local Republican congressman because you like his/her policies, but you can tick a Democratic President on the ballot for the same reason.

As you vote for a party in the UK, once the counting is down, the party with the most votes and seats comes into power and the head of the party becomes Prime Minister.  Done and dusted. That means that for the next 5 years, the party and Prime Minister that were voted into power control the government, the policies, the budget, etc. They set the agenda. That’s it, and if you don’t like it, you can vote differently in the next elections.  (We’ll save coalition governments for another day.)

In the U.S., we have this thing called “checks and balances” or as some in D.C. call it “quagmire” :-).  Because you can vote individually and NOT down party lines means you can end up in any given election year where you’ve elected a Democratic President, the House is controlled by Dems, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans or any similar confusing permutation (to recap, our lower house or Congress is similar to your MPs, and our upper house or Senate is similar to your Lords).

So as a result of this system, where no one entity has too much power (the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in the US are clearly separated and defined), our Congress and Senate and President end up bickering a lot. And since they cannot agree on many things, they end up in stalemates.

Enter Government Shutdown.  Because one party (in this case the Democrats) could not agree on the budget the President and his party (the Republicans) put forth, and since the budget needs to be approved by both the House and then the Senate, the deadline came and went without consensus.

In the U.K., this just doesn’t happen.  There is little recourse if you don’t like the budget conservatives (ruling party right now) put into place, except to protest with your local reps or vote differently in the next election.  Acceptance and move on.

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However, you should see Budget Day here! It was nothing short of a royal wedding coverage. It’s absolutely fantastic (for policy wonks and geeks)! There are helicopters hovering over the black car carrying the famous “Red Box” that is attached to the UK Treasurer as he leaves 10 Downing and heads to Parliament to read out the new budget. Budget Day last fall was November 22nd and the BBC (and other networks) had a 4-hour special breaking into their regular news programming to carry the speech live and then go into extensive analysis with experts, followed by immediate feedback with citizens across the country.  Four hours! Live TV! On the national budget!!

But this doesn’t happen in the U.S.  The two sides go into their corners and negotiations are heated. The shutdown this time has become even more politicised than before. Thanks to this President, it’s vicious and nasty. The message you hear when you call the White House says calls cannot be answered because the Democrats are holding government funding “hostage”. (Listen here). And this irresponsible and erroneous ad has been approved of by the President, contrary to what the White House press secretary recently said.

Many are affected by the shutdown, but the scaremongering the President has attached to “our nation’s security” and not being able to “pay the troops” is overblown and misunderstood. This piece by Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explains exactly what happens in a government shutdown to the military and why. As he’s been in command when this has happened before, I suspect he has a better handle on it than the President.

And the issues they are squabbling over are extensive but at this point it boils down to DACA (Dreamers, the children who came illegally to the US to stay and work or study and allowed to stay b/c of a law Obama put into place in 2012), border security, children health insurance, and spending and investment.  This has happened in the past (Monica ended up roaming the halls of a fairly empty West Wing during the Clinton White House because of a government shutdown, and we all know how that ended). But in every instance, it takes compromise on both sides of the negotiation.

This President touts himself as being a tough negotiator, a “dealmaker”.  In this case, I’m glad the Democrats are digging their heels in, but getting to this point doesn’t help anyone, and I fear the President and his pride will be determined to win this. And the American people are already turned off by Washington. 80% of Americans polled in 2017 say they disapprove of the way Congress handles their job (Gallup). No surprise there.

I’m not sure which is better. I do like being able to vote for the individual rather than the party. I do like the theory of checks and balances but it just doesn’t seem to work well in practice.

Alternatively, I’m not sure having a fait accompli is good either. However, without the option to change policies halfway through an administration, I think it becomes that much more incumbent for the sitting administration to get things right.  If they don’t, they’ll be voted out at the next chance. They have one shot and have to make it work.  Let’s hope the Dems and Reps in Washington can do the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A GREAT WAY TO END THE WEEK: LITTLE BIRD CAFE

After a long, cold, dreary week, there is nothing nicer than a warm, cozy neighbourhood place to relax in. Little Bird opened right across from the Chiswick Overground Station in July 2016 and we’d been meaning to come for a while yet life always gets in the way. But last night I walked along the river in biting cold and wind to meet my husband there for an early dinner. The thought of warmth, good food and drinks made it an easy 12 minute walk from near Kew Bridge and the fairy lights and steamy windows beckoned.

Inside, the restaurant reminded me of New Orleans for some reason. Jazzy strains of Amy Winehouse and Stevie Wonder, potted plants of all sizes and varieties (succulents, cacti, and palms) and white painted brick walls complemented with dark wood and lots of wicker and candles leant to the ‘Nawlins’ atmosphere. Lots of cushiony, deep couches in muted tones of olive and aqua were tucked away in nooks and crannies with tables and comfy chairs. It’s very small but they cram in a welcoming bar and in warmer weather, there is outdoor seating out front and a hidden garden/patio in back.  The staff were very friendly and helpful, however they reminded us a few too many times that they needed the table back in 2 hours.  We went through the small front room which was buzzing with couples and groups clearly out for a good night and down a small hallway to a back teeny room where we were seated in a luscious velvet couch that took me a while to get in and out of.

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They are known for their drinks but I think as much so they are known for the Asian fusion “tapas” which were all delicious.  As its “dry January” all bars and restaurants find clever ways to keep drinks coming, and I started off with a “Mocktail” called Lavender Hill.  Described as fresh blueberries, lavender syrup, cranberry & fresh lemon in a violet sugar rimmed glass. It was delicious, but went down very quickly for a £4.95 drink with no alcohol. My husband had the Ginger Beer Mojito (or Nojito as it was non-alcoholic too) and he swears his was better, but we weren’t going to start a bicker over that!

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We had 5 tapas to share plus 2 sides — way to much but delicious nonetheless. My favourite Dim Sum Pork Gyoza with black soy. They were thin, tender yet crisped on the outside and succulent pork and flavours inside. This was tied with the delicious Chicken Tikka Brochette with Coriander Mayo and Flat Bread. Charred with tikka flavours locked in, and the smooth, creamy mayo — I was in heaven! The Spiced Lamb Lentil Curry was quite a large portion but very tasty — i only wish they had brought more Sesame Naan with that. My husband loved the Courgette Frites and the Edamame was messy to eat but we licked the spicy sauce they were cooked in off the pods.

Little Bird is an invention of Lorraine Angliss who owns Annie’s on Strand-on-the-Green and Rock and Rose in Richmond. Funnily enough, when we first moved to London, we rented a house just down the street from Rock and Rose and everyone kept telling us about this cool restaurant that was owned by a friend of Madonna’s and how we HAD to go there. We were never very impressed with Rock and Rose, with its bordello-styled main room and chintzy wallpaper. But we moved to Strand-on-the-Green and discovered Annie’s and absolutely loved it. Delicious food, excellent service, professional staff, and a warm, inviting neighbourhood cafe.

At Little Bird, it has the same vibe, but perhaps a little cooler, and more fun.  The only slight disappointment was the Blackened Cod Fillet — my husband said it was a bit bland. But as the sultry lounge music played, our drinks in hand and bellies full, we wondered why we don’t do this more often. Now that Little Bird is nearby, hopefully we will!

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LUMIERE LONDON!

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For anyone who happens to be in the City this weekend, you cannot miss this. I am heading down on Sunday night, but a friend went last night and thought I’d share some photos:  Lumiere London

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My husband and I saw some “Son et Lumieres” Shows in France on our honeymoon years ago, but still remember what a beautiful spectacle it is, especially as they light up beautiful, centuries old buildings. But London has added so many other aspects to this show, and modernised it in an interactive way. See the photos below. You can go to different parts of the city for different routes and exhibits. Download the app and it will guide you to the different exhibits. Enjoy!!

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