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Monday, April 29, 2002
Jame DiBiasio writes (and boy do we appreciate it):

Travels have allowed me to catch up with a number of SAISers. First, I once again met up with some of the lads in Tokyo, where Thanos played host to Manila-based David and, all the way from London, Aygen and Gilles. Thanos didn't let any of us meet his girlfriend, who is also Greek. He did however generously let us crash at his place and take us around town. Well, actually a fellow diplomat at the Turkish embassy who happens to also be a school chum of Aygen's took us around town. But I've teased Thanos enough on this site already, so I won't tell about the time we were taking two cars to find this shopping area across the river...

Our favorite Spanish peasant has settled into his aristocratic life in the Philippines. Manila can be a rough place - killer poverty, pollution, traffic - but David's enjoying the bright side of life there, which generally means being treated like royalty and occasional getaways to Borocay on his donkey. Aygen is his fellow development banker at the EBRD. We had a long discussion about why Aygen would be happier at the ADB. I think he almost bought it. Gilles is studying for exams and wondering whether to get another job in consulting. I've forgotten all the interesting bits, as this weekend took place a month or so ago and I've had too many beer-induced destruction of brain cells to paint a better picture. But I think our time mainly involved ogling women and gossiping about the rest of you. It was a very intellectual weekend.

More recently I was in London and Amsterdam. First, in the Netherlands, I was put up by Sebastian and Gioia, who have bought a new home in a posh suburb close to the city centre and to the trains. Sebastian you may recall works at the defense ministry, and has been at the centre of the political crisis surrounding the army's role at Srebrenica which has just seen the government collapse. Sebastian has been under quite a bit of pressure but bears it extremely well; enjoying a nice home-cooked dinner and putting a sizeable dent in his wine collection, you'd never realize he's working hard. Gioia is at ABN Amro but shifting jobs. She'll be editing a new website for the asset management company, and she's eager to start. She has more or less mastered Dutch (although she says at work meetings involving technical jargon still throw her) and likes to harangue her husband in his native tongue. They've been there for about seven years! I hadn't been to Amsterdam for over a decade and found it a charming, cozy place. I particularly liked the standing-room only traditional gin cafe that Sebastian and Gioia took me to.

In London I stayed first with Beth and then with Glenn and Maggie. Beth moved to London at the end of last year and has settled in marvelously. She has an adorable flat in trendy Notting Hill and an extremely cute (her definition; I'll not demur) and clever English boyfriend who in addition to having a straight job also plays bass in an ambitious rock band. Working at SG as an investment banker in power, energy, oil, gas and bass players keeps her as busy as you can imagine.

Glenn and Maggie are now joined by Ella, their sublimely named daughter of (at this writing) nearly six months. They are steadily renovating a house bought in the working class area of Arsenal. Glenn's Telco was bought out and with his pecuniary rewards he's taking a break before finding new work; Maggie is also maternally off until July, when she returns to teaching. So the family is spending May with relatives at a beautiful house in France. Life's tough! Ella, by the way, has a smile that could light up the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. She shares Daddy's fondness of jazz.

I had lunch with Gilles and Nick - dim sum in London's Chinatown by Leicester Square. Signor Lasagna and his wife Maria have two little ones of their own who are learning Italian and English. Nick reports being happy in his work (law for M&A deals) and thinks the Italian unions are crazy and dangerous; it would have been interesting to get the views of Maria, the family member della sinistra, but alas I was unable to see her this time around. Nick reckons they'll remain in London for a bit but eventually will return to Il Belpaese. I also caught up again with Aygen; he, Glenn and I had dinner and drinks in Hoxton at a hip Greek establishment. Glenn and I critiqued the mad Turk's love life. This is a family site (??) and I'll not repeat any tales here; suffice it to say that sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

Two surprises. First, Makram was in town, also staying with Glenn and Maggie. What a splendid man. His NGO promoting democracy has him running all over the place. Lately he is in charge of its operations in South Asia, sending him constantly to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Think about it: Sri Lanka is his easy assignment. But Big Mac is up for the task. He passed through London back to Washington, DC following a grueling five-city tour through Pakistan. His main problem isn't Muslim fundamentalists, power-hungry generals, mass poverty or blockheads at the US embassy; I think he just misses his wife Jennifer when he's on the road.

Second, a real coincidence. Carrying luggage on the Circle line to Paddington to catch the express to Heathrow, I step onto the train at St James's Place to see...Andrew Rechtman. He looks his usual tanned, sporty self. He works in Sydney at Bain, a consultancy, but is considering either going into filmmaking (he has a friend who has a friend) or starting a line of pizza takeaway joints in Australia. Unfortunately that's about as far as our time allowed; we went our separate ways.

But that's the way it is with SAISers. Random foreigners bump into each other in a foreign city, we haven't seen each other in five years, but the conversation still feels perfectly natural, as if we hadn't seen each other for a mere five weeks. In troubled times when the world can feel so big and unruly, it's nice to occasionally feel that it can be cozy too.

Bye for now, Jame