Hello from the United Kingdom. My name is David Vinokur, a Palo Alto native now based in London. Last year I was miraculously selected in the public lottery to purchase tickets to attend the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. I subsequently accepted an invitation from the Palo Alto Weekly to provide my beloved hometown with a "local" angle on the opening extravaganza, as well as life in Blighty.
In the lead up to the opening Ceremony next month, I will share my personal take on Britain, including peculiarities and highlights of life in my adoptive Roman-founded mega city formerly known as Londinium. I will touch on food, radio and television, theatre and music, language, sports and maybe even some politics and history. But first, I'd like to train your gaze on my roots in Palo Alto and how I got from "Tall Tree" to "The Smoke."
The 94301 perspective
Born, raised and educated in Palo Alto, I attended Addison, Jordan (go Dolphins) and Paly. Growing up, in addition to the schooling, the parks and recreation were (and remain) fantastic, especially the Baylands Preserve, Foothills Park and Rinconada Park and pool. I played in AYSO (the American Youth Soccer Organisation, for those not familiar) from fifth to 12th grade and also played clarinet and bassoon in Jordon and Paly ensembles various.
Following my two older brothers, I was a third-generation newspaper delivery boy for the Palo Alto Times and Peninsula Times-Tribune, throughout Jordan and Paly. Many of my former customers still live on my old paper route, and to them I extend a belated and sincere apology for any munched screen doors or wet newspapers! The long P.A. legacy of community service and outreach also informs my outlook to this day.
My path to London I suppose started with my Euro-centric upbringing. My father, Marcel, was born in what is now the Czech Republic. Both of my parents always placed high stock on travel, and managed to visit Western Europe several times during my youth, taking me when I was a teenager. This inspired me to save up my paper route earnings in high school for a three week European tour sponsored and chaperoned by Paly English teacher, Mrs. Bradshaw. Thank you, Mrs. B!
Crossing the pond
Fast forward to 2003 when I met my future wife, a London native who was spending time in California. After she returned to the U.K., we struck up a long-distance relationship and were married the following year. Palo Alto Reverend Hyram Pierce, a family friend, officiated at our nuptials in my parents' back yard on Channing Avenue. And for the past six years I have lived with my UK family in the largely residential Thames-bound south London Borough of Wandsworth, home to such luminaries as super chef Gordon Ramsey, Oscar winning actor Colin Firth and the Tooting Bec Lido.
The Tooting Lido is actually a fully functioning, 106-year-old open-air swimming pool, the largest in the U.K. and purportedly the second largest in Europe. Situated in the 212-acre Tooting Commons parklands, the Lido opened three months after the Great Quake of 1906 as the "Tooting Bathing Lake." Its one-million-gallon pool provided not only athletic but also bathing facilities for the many local residents who did not have this at home. In fact, many toilets then were located out back -- even the door to our garden shed was originally from an old "outside loo." Suffice to say this pool and park are a wonderful way to stay connected to my swimming and hiking roots.
Big, old melting pot
In this "olde" land where the English language was invented, the Brits treat word play as an art form. The Monty Python skit and quote, "Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Say no more!" is a good example of the fondness over here for linguistic playfulness. So too is Prince Charles during his speech last week to honor the Queen at her Golden Jubilee celebrating 60 years on the throne, when he said: "Your Majesty, Mummy" to resounding cheers and nationwide glee.
An apt and funny saying about the U.K. is: it's like Europe, but in English. And at its heart is London and environs, a massive melting pot of 13 million souls from across the 54 British Commonwealth member nations, as well as the European Union and pretty much everywhere you can imagine. This amazing mix of cultures generates some fascinating cross-pollination of peoples and languages. Familiar language differences with the U.S. are truck/lorry, elevator/lift and the aforementioned toilet/loo. This reminds me of the classic sentiment that the U.S. and U.K. are two countries separated by a common language.
In-depth series in the weeks ahead
So dear reader, equipped with my Palo Alto perspective, over the coming weeks I will attempt to shed light on my experiences both at the Opening Ceremony and also as a Palo Alton in London. In the after-glow of the just celebrated Golden Jubilee, I sign off as one who is very grateful to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for granting me leave to reside among her subjects. Pip pip.
See photo gallery
Posted by Leytonstoner, a resident of another community, on Jun 26, 2012 at 11:43 am
A Palo Alton? Is that Cockney?
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Jun 27, 2012 at 11:32 am
Could you please provide an overview of the security concerns? I have heard some disturbing reports of Islamist terrorists targeting the Olympics in London. Remember Munich? Do the British have the capability of dealing with it (unlike the Germans)? What is the word on the street?
BTW, I have a British cousin, and he tells me that there are concerns. However, he lives in York, not London. What are you hearing in the pubs?
Posted by Ronnie, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm
Very cool! You should see if you can get an interview with the Team USA Badminton Coach - Ben Lee (of the Palo Alto Police Department.) Maybe the Weekly can hook you up.
I look forward to reading your posts! Enjoy a pint for us!
Posted by Ellen, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jun 28, 2012 at 9:16 am
As an American student who also happens to be an extreme anglophile, I am extremely excited to read your future posts. I am seriously considering attending a university in London and it will be awesome to get information on the city and current happenings from a Palo Altan (phrase?) I am genuinely looking forward to reading your future posts.
Posted by Brian, a resident of another community, on Jun 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm
As an Englishman who resided in Greenmeadow area for a number of years and who reads this journal frequently I can assure that the London Olympics will be very safe.The authorities even have plans to mount surface to air missiles on a block of apartments - but I believe the residents are challenging this in court!
Posted by Douglas, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Jun 28, 2012 at 3:43 pm
> I can assure that the London Olympics will be very safe.The authorities even have plans to mount surface to air missiles on a block of apartments - but I believe the residents are challenging this in court!
Brian, I hope you are right. However, we had similar assurances from German officials for the 1972 Munich Olympics, and it turned into a disaster. What are the guys in pubs saying, if you go to pubs? I think street cred, on this issue, is more important than official pronouncements, including missles on roofs. Islamist terrorists are not going to fly a plane into the Olympic Stadium, if they can obtain the same goal, through small arms and suicide ethics.
Why are you so assured? Even as an Englishman?
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 30, 2012 at 5:28 am
Here is a BBC article for those interested in the security aspects Web Link
Posted by Brian, a resident of another community, on Jun 30, 2012 at 10:52 am
More info on London Olympics security...