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Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 5



We’re up at 4 a.m. – Last day in London. An expensive cab ride to the railroad station. I have no complaints. The train’s much faster than the bus we took on our arrival, less than half the time.

The airport’s crowded, of course, and we find our large, shared suitcase is two kilos overweight. We need take some stuff out or pay for the extra weight. I stuff my shaving kit and some guidebooks into my backpack, wife crams some things into her purse and we pass the checked baggage requirement.

We move on to the usual madness of checking in, dumping all of our pockets into the plastic bins that roll to the x-ray. I get beeped on my way through the metal detection gate. Why? Then I remember, cell phone in a pocked of my pants leg. I hurriedly show it to the lady on the line.
“Forgot,” I tell her.
“Too late,” she shakes her head.

Another scan and body search by a male guard who finally lets me pass. Then a backpack inspection. Woman opens my shaving kit looks at me with disdain, says nothing. Puts my little bottles in a plastic bag.

“Can’t keep these.” She takes my Head and Shoulders and some toothpaste as my pants are falling off—no belt.

We finally make it through, then spend time standing for the plane that’s now an hour late. Another plane has parked in the wrong place and it takes time to sort it out. I find a place to sit on the floor with my back against the wall.

Our ride home is easier than it was coming in. I read a book I brought as others read their cell phones. Just a short walk to our car when we get off, no problem, but we can’t get out. Gate at the lot refuses to release us after wife taps in the pre-paid code. We finally give it up and pay again with hope we’ll get our money back.

Three hour car tip home is easy, cell phone telling us the way. Cat meets me at the door, with a censorious look – three days on dry food. Runs to food dish for fresh meat.

 

My son-in-law brings dogs an hour later. They’re ecstatic with tail wagging madness, overjoyed to be with mom again.

My own tail to does not wag, it’s dragging, but it’s good to be back home. Now time to play with photos, memories and words. I wish we’d had more time. So many things to see and do in that amazing city, London. With a year to spend one could not see them all, or even part, but it’s been good. My birthday, 80 years—in London. Indefatigable wife says she would like to go again. She’s Swedish.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 4



Part 4
London Eye

Walking the Walk

We’ve had a good breakfast and an early start. My legs have not reset. My feet are flatter than yesterday’s pancakes and feeling every step. My wife loves walking, walks the dogs on hour long tours three times a day. She keeps a dog long pace, and is frustrated by my lack of speed. She is the horse that won’t be passed.
She looks behind to see if I’m with her. “No matter how slow I go you always walk slower,” she tells me.

Spot on. We never really find my pace. I’m in no hurry; do not have to be on time. We make it to the tubes, two rides—our transport tickets working easily, no problem. Colored lines show how to get from one tube to another in the many layered labyrinth of rails. Standing room only— crowded.

London Eye’s a relatively short walk, then another line, but it keeps moving. London Eye is very cool. The structure by itself is fascinating. I would have loved to watch it being built. It fairly sparkles in the sky, and never stops moving—very slowly, slow enough for people to step on and off. Backpack and bag are searched again.

 
Ride last less than a half an hour. Views worth the cost of trip. This city, London—huge beyond my expectations, growing ever larger, like the wheel, it never stops.


 

The ride was good, met all my expectations. After getting off we have some free time I see a place that’s selling fish and chips. I loved fish and chips sold where we lived in America and am excited to buy the original here in London, but am disappointed. Tastes like cardboard, really bad. I leave it for the pigeons. We move on, but don’t get far. The London Marathon has started, and the streets are jammed, some streets blocked off.
Once again we can’t get anywhere from where we are. We stop for coffee at a jam packed Starbucks, and peruse our maps. It takes an hour to find our way to Trafalgar Square.

 

We stop to look around. Lots going on, protestors, artists, souvenir stands. Legs are killing me. I spot the National museum.
“Let’s go there,” I say.

“What do you want to see?” wife asks.

“I want to find a soft couch, and sit and stare at a painting for an hour or so.”

Wife decides to take some time to shop. I go alone and find it’s everything I want. Wonderful places to sit, and entrance is free after a backpack check. I’m surprised they people are allowed to take photos.

 
I’m most taken with a painting of a horse named Whistlejacket. George Stubbs – 1762. Horse only lost four times in its career. He’s such a pleasant thing to look at from this wonderful soft, leather couch. Just what I wanted, perfect, peaceful, quiet and not crowded here.

 

I meet the wife outside some ninety minutes later. She’s not found what she was shopping for.

“Not enough time,” she says.

So true.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 3


Part 3


We buy transport passes with our credit cars, you have to have them going in at out of underground and buses. They’re easy to use, just slap ‘em face down at the turn styles.
 
More walking and two tube rides take us to Southwark and the Shard— Europe’s tallest building. Costs $40 and change for a ride to the top. Great views, we are told. I figure views are just as good from the London Eye and less expressive. They’re washing the Shard’s windows today—must be an interesting job.

                

We couldn’t figure how to get from where we are to London Bridge, and ask one of the many Police Support people, but she doesn’t live in London, she’s from out of town, and clueless, but has a cell phone. I learn London Bridge is not what we are looking for, it’s Tower Bridge. Eventually we get it figured out.

 

We have to cross London Bridge, then a long walk along the Thames to Tower Bridge. It’s an interesting stroll, great views, but by my legs are giving out again. I’m not a wuss. I work out at a gym three times a week, lift weights and do Nautilus,  but I don’t walk. Walking is not my thing.

We pre-bought tickets, for the bridge on line, so we wouldn’t have to stand in long lines, but you have to wait in line to get the paper tickets that you bought on line. The wait and line we’re not too bad, about a half hour. Wife’s purse and my backpack are searched. Anything larger than a modest woman’s purse is inspected at every event, ride, museum and side show. Guards stand at the entrance of every large office building. If you want in you’d better have a damn good reason. These people are paranoid—a heightened state of awareness. The intermittent scans and inspections are a bother, and should seem more of a bother. We get used to them, accepting . . . how it is. The heightened security makes sense—thousands of people thronging much beloved, and important places. It’s easy to understand, but sad.
 

The bridge is an interesting tour. We enjoy looking down through a glass floor at the top. People wave up at us from tour boats passing far below. It puzzles me how clean the glass is. Thousands of people walk across this thing every day and there’s not a scratch or a scuff mark on it. Most interesting was the old steam engine that used to raise the drawbridge. It’s massive thing, painted beautifully. I doubt it had the paint job when in use, but it’s a work of art now. Must have been a trip to see that thing in action.
 




When the tour over, lots more walking, and two tube rides. The damn train starts and stops like a jackrabbit and I’m thrown off balance on the way home, stumbling into others standing in the aisle. No big deal, but a guy gets up and offers me his seat. Embarrassing. I try to refuse but he insists—three times. It feels great to sit down again.
We find our hotel easily. I have a beer and smoke on the patio. The bridge is one thing off my bucket list. One left, The London Eye.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 2


Part 2   London:
Customs:

We get off the plane and follow a crowd of passengers into a crowd of passengers that merge into an ever larger crowd that bulges and then splits like an ameba, into two parts, European passports and ‘Other.’ We are other. There are thousands of us squeezed into an endless snake-like line.
Photo taken just before I saw the sign.  ‘Do Not Take Photos.’


 There’s no edges to the mass, just people, far as you can see.

An hour and fifteen minutes later we have finally made it to the inspector who is friendly and courteous, with smiles. How do they do it? He asks how long we will stay, and stamps us in. “Have fun,” he says. We’re on our way—almost. More time spent waiting for a bus that’s late.



An hour and thirty minutes later we get off and start to look for our hotel without much luck. It’s a pretty big hotel and we have the street address. We’re sure we are very close, but nobody knows where it is. I am gaining a first and lasting tourist impression. Nobody here is from here. They are all from somewhere else, friendly and helpful. Cell phones come out. We finally find it, take a three hour rest, then we’re on our way to Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
More crowds. We’re never more than three feet from another person. Introverts will understand my stressful point of view, but wife has plans and endless energy. She’s Swedish. We peruse the mammoth shopping center. Somebody’s singing opera with surprisingly loud voice amidst the passersby, and those at outdoor tables having lunch with drinks and conversation. We pay an extravagant price for a barely average dinner, but I’m grateful just to have a place to sit. I make it last as long as possible, then we are on our way again.
My legs and feet are killing me. I find a curbside space to sit as wait as wife goes off to do some short term, freelance shopping. Feet are on my mind and I start noticing the feet of people passing by. I took some photos. Wish I’d taken more. An interesting curbside vision. Could have led to something.

Wife returns with some notebooks  she’s been unable to find in Sweden and we take one last walk—not far, to Savoy Theater, and Dream Girls.



Good, soft seats, just three rows back from stage – a total pleasure. Great show with fantastic sets and actors. Wow, those voices, and the dancing. Cast is black, all but two token white guys—had to be damned good to make that show. They all were.
We got lost again on our way home, three blocks away from our hotel, but finally found it. Then to bed. Thank God. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and London Bridge. Seems like it ought to be an easy thing to find.

The Truth About London – A travel Confession – Part 1


Part 1    People On The Move

There are two kinds of folks on journeys—my opinion.  Travelers, and Tourists. By my definition, if you’ve flown a thousand miles to spend three days somewhere, you are a tourist. Nothing wrong with that. I am myself a tourist now, but used to travel in my youth. As tourist, I am here to see the sights, the monuments and castles. Subway bound —the tube, with wives and cameras, sometimes kids.

The travelers are mostly single, often younger, with no jobs, perhaps between jobs, less well healed than tourists, but the trip is less expensive. There is time to learn one’s way around, the price of things, and what’s worth having. Fewer baths, and Spartan beds—long rides on shaky buses. Learning to relax amidst the unfamiliar.

Lots of things are unfamiliar to me in this digital, technology—like cell phones. Mine defies me, always wanting updates or a code a I can’t remember. Others use them without thought. Facebooking madly. “We are here now.” There are photos, maps. Friends know exactly where we are. There was a time when no one knew where in the world I was. Now I prefer somebody does—just in case. Survivors get more cautious as we age.

I have digressed. Where am I? Tourist, London, with my wife. My birthday—eighty years.
The trip begins. A three hour ride. Wife’s driving with some kind of cell phone app. A woman’s voice instructs us, “In 300 meters, turn right onto Route 53.” Amazing. It’s unreal. We never miss a turn and it’s a complicated drive. No problem. We have reservations, pre-paid parking fee for days we’d be away, and airline tickets —Ryan Airlines—gets you there no frills, far less expensive. All this done on Internet and cell phone. Wife made all of these arrangements. She has been a long time traveler, and still good at it. She’s Swedish, can’t remember if I’ve told you.

We sleep over at the hotel airport. Nice rooms and free breakfast opens 4 a.m.  Airport in walking distance, then the wait. About two hours and then another in line waiting to get passports checked. Wife says to slide my passport through the slot along with Swedish ID card. Confusion. Why am I traveling with a U.S. passport? A long discussion begins. I had not thought to bring my percent resident card—ten minute hassle. Those in line behind us are unhappy. I have become one of the people I have cursed. “What the hell is wrong with that guy? What’s his problem?” At last a superior is consulted and we are let through to wait in another line, the last before getting on a plane with less legroom than planes with no leg room and non-reclining seats. We’re thirty hours into the trip and still not there yet.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Regarding the Truth

From The Art of FictionParis Review – Summer 2017

Taken from an interview with Ali Smith.

 

"We are living in a time when lies are sanctioned. We have always lived in that time, but now lies are publicly, rhetorically sanctioned. And something tribal has happened, which means nobody gives a shit whether somebody’s lying or not because he’s on my side or she’s on my side. In the end, will truth matter? Of course truth will matter. Truth isn’t relative. But there’s going to be a great sacrifice on the way to getting truth to matter to us again, to find out why it does, and God knows what shape that sacrifice will take."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Snow Hounds – A Dog’s Tail



Snow Hounds – A Dog’s Tail



 By Ellie 

It had snowed for one-hundred days straight in Sweden. There was no longer any place to put it. The smaller towns were buried first, then cities. Stockholm simply disappeared. Survivors lived below, in tunnels—like rabbits.

Ellie always woke up first these sunless mornings. “Woof.” She nudged her cousin, Mio, who was already awake and wondering where it would all end. “We’re getting out of here,” she growled.

Meo saw she was serious and ready or anything. But . . . there was risk. “You mean we’re going up? On top?”

“The surface.” Ellie stretched. “It’s time to go. It’s now or never. We have to try, or die here in this winter wasteland that’s forgotten summer and remembers only rain, and wind . . . and snow.”

“Tell me about it.” Mio sniffed. “Go where?” “I don’t know. Someplace warmer, where a dog can see the sun. Alaska maybe, or Siberia. Siberia is good this time of year.” “I used to know a bitch from Russia.” Mio wagged his tail. “Whatever.” Ellie trotted off. “We’re going up, then heading north.”

*     *     *
 It took a day from them to dig their way up to the top. The sun was blinding. For a moment Ellie though she felt a bit of warmth, but then it passed, for they were still in Sweden. The brave hounds started off across the endless drifts of glaring white that reflected a sick sun circling a desolate Swedish horizon. They left with only the coats on their backs, and dog-like determination.