By Andy Weddington
Friday, 27 May 2011
"Gifts must affect the receiver to the point of shock." Walter Benjamin
A few days ago I received a short email from a Canadian friend who was responding to an email I'd sent him. Content? Mostly witty repartee. So goes our friendship. After addressing whatever "business" I'd initiated, he offered a few lines updating family goings on. A personal high-light for him, since our last visit in January, was having opportunity to play the Old Course at St Andrews.
I knew he was a hockey player, since youth, but don't recall ever having discussed golf; beyond the Tiger Woods off-the-course drama a couple of years ago. I suppose since both sports are played with long sticks whacking at something round there must be some muscle memory crossover. Maybe. He didn't mention a score. And I didn't ask--knowing if he'd shot par, or even close, or done something remarkable on a single hole he'd have so offered. Besides, score was probably moot since he noted the round received a "bucket list" checkmark. Good for him.
Anyway, only cursorily familiar with the prestigious history of the course, I decided to Google and learn a bit more. Interesting. What I did not know is the Old Course is one of seven, managed by St Andrews Links Trust, that comprises the largest public golf complex in Europe.
And that is pretty much all I'll have to say about St Andrews and golf.
But now more about links.
Buried on the inside near the bottom of page A8 in our desert paper, dated two days after the above noted email, was an Associated Press article titled, "High-level gift exchange." In fact, it was the last of several short pieces under the header "President Obama Tours Europe."
The "gift exchange" piece caught my eye as the words triggered memories of Mr. Obama, early in his tenure, returning a bronze bust sculpture of Winston Churchill to Britain, and having tastelessly presented, the Queen I believe it was, an iPod loaded with Obama speeches; the best of. Unbelievable--as to both instances. But, as Dr. Charles Krauthammer would attest, conduct right in line with that expected of a narcissist.
Oh, and there have been other head-scratching gifts presented by Mr. Obama but they, specifically, matter not for the theme of today's Comment. Suffice to say oddities centered around self are more routine than exception.
Now I have no idea what Mr. Obama did for leisure while in Britain. A golfer, he may have toted his sticks across the Atlantic and played one of the seven St Andrews Links Trust managed courses. For all I know he may have played the Old Course at St Andrews. Again, no idea. And don't really care.
But on the other hand, links did most definitely come into play during the president's visit.
As reported in the newspaper and just mentioned, there was a gift exchange between the Obama family and the Cameron family--David, being the British Prime Minister, and his wife Samantha. And each couples children were included in the swap.
The Camerons graciously presented the Obamas a wall hanging created by a notable London rug company--the main elements being a Union Jack, an American bald eagle with the Stars and Stripes, and the dates of the State visit. I've not seen photographs but it sounds classy and appropriate from one world leader to another. And one symbolic of our respective nations longstanding ties and friendship.
Though the Obama children, Malia and Sasha, did not travel with their parents, the Camerons gave each of them some sort of charm bracelet--the charms adorned with the girl's initials. A classy, age appropriate gift and thoughtful of them to have included the children.
Now it gets interesting.
Comical a better descriptor.
During the winter of 2009 a Magnolia tree, on the White House grounds, fell during a snowstorm. Not to waste the marvelous wood, artisans were called upon to create. And create they did.
Wood shaft golf clubs, though once the game's standard, are not believed to have been crafted from the wood. Not even a commemorative set, or two, for presidential presentation to a links clubhouse at a historic course like St Andrews.
What were they thinking? Beyond the fact an English botanist by the name of William Sherard is believed first to adopt the genus name Magnolia.
However, artisans did create some links.
And it was a set of Magnolia wood and sterling silver cufflinks that our president gifted Mr. Cameron.
But wait, there's more. The links were engraved with Mr. Obama's signature.
No, not kidding. Seriously. Yes, really!
Oh, it gets better.
Samantha Cameron was presented a Magnolia wood and sterling silver bracelet. There was no mention if it, too, was engraved with the Obama script. But certainly the Obamas would not be so tacky as to not present matching jewelry. Would they? Wood they? After all, wouldn't 'his and hers' comply with Emily Post etiquette and protocol?
But wait, it gets better still.
The three Cameron children, maybe a bit young for Magnolia wood and sterling silver engraved bling, were, like their parents, graced with the Obama pen. To them our president gifted a signed copy of his children's book, "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters." Also, the older two youngsters were given toy scooters (wonder where Mr. Obama signed them?), and the baby a wooden (no mention if of Magnolia) jigsaw puzzle and stuffed animal featuring, what else, drum roll please...............the Obama family pooch, Bo. The article did not mention if Mr. Obama or Bo "signed" either piece.
Again, good grief.
And, no, honestly, I am not making this stuff up.
It's no secret our relationship with Britain has been a bit strained since Mr. Obama took office--he seemingly intent on poking them in both eyes to right some sort of perceived wrongs as to the treatment of his father. Whatever. And who really gives a damn. Get over it.
All I know is I remember a few years ago Michelle Obama was on the campaign trail ranting about what a mean country America is and that for the first time in her life she was finally proud of her homeland.
Well, if nothing else coming from the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during the past two and a half years have triggered feelings of national embarrassment for sensible Americans that "gift" exchange should have certainly done it.
Reminds me of a child celebrating their 10th birthday. Double digits! Finally! Big party! Many friends. Gifts all wrapped up in beautiful paper and bows. Exciting! After cake and ice cream and Kool-Aid and pin the tail on the donkey, the gift opening begins. The honoree rips open a package and holds up the content for all to see. Looks. And looks some more. Facial expressions say it all. And not sure what to say, yet conscious enough of others and feelings to know the moment calls for tact, says, "This is nice. Thank you so much." Followed by, "Who wants it?"
Of course I don't know Mr. Cameron so I'm only guessing, upon opening the Obama gift, he echoed the birthday "boy's" sentiments, "This is nice. Thank you so much." But he had the maturity and diplomacy to wait until the Obama's departed before asking, "Who wants it?"
I wonder who now owns the Obama cufflinks? And bracelet?
The Cameron kids can keep the toys. After all, they're kids. To them Mr. and Mrs. Obama were just another nice man and woman with funny accents visiting mum and dad. Besides, scooters and puzzles and stuffed animals are pretty cool. Signatures can always be painted over or removed, if not scuffed off from use.
I sure wish my Canadian friend, and his family, was in town--to join me in a round on the golf "course."
I simply can't bring myself to use the "l" word.
Good grief is right.
I've decided to search for an artisan to fashion some sets of cufflinks and matching bracelets out of bark from a Joshua Tree (fallen in our backyard during a windstorm in 2009) and soft drink can pop tops. My name will be scratched, in Old English, in the aluminum with a ten-penny nail. I plan to use them as gifts when on foreign travel. Won't my hosts be surprised! Who knows, maybe a set will end up in your hands.
And the following from my friend, Steve, after reading the above Comment...
"His embarrassing tour highlights also included a mock Irish accent, a stuck Limo, a botched toast to the Queen, and the coup de gras the misdated signature at Westminster Abby- 2008. Our brightest smartest President ever! Kinda joins his Happy "Cinco de Quattro" as the perfect example of why 2012 cannot come soon enough."
To Steve's thoughts I add, off the cuff, just maybe, despite all billing, the president's bag is a club or two short a full complement. And that is not good--on or off the links. What Mr. Obama really needs is a good rescue club, but he'd never admit to it nor ask for one. Ever.