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."
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 Jordan and Paly ensembles various.
... For the past six years I have lived with my U.K. 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 it to say this pool and park are a wonderful way to stay connected to my swimming and hiking roots.
... 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.
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 Altan 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.