Sunday, July 21, 2019

The past.

When we checked out of our beautiful house by the sea, our proto-crypto dream house, it was raining. The wetsuits we had draped across the fence were newly wet. Our bags, full of the things we’d packed and the things we’d bought, jenga’d into the boot of the passenger van. And off we went.

St. Ives, this was the last day of our acquaintance.

Our plan was to drive to St Helens, on the outskirts of Liverpool, with a stop in Bath to see the Roman baths. This would be roughly halfway between St. Ives and Inverurie, our Scotland home for the next two weeks. What could not been predicted was mayhem on the motorway. This, combined with what can only be described as an avant garde Sat Nav, took us through the highways and the hedgerows and the byways of the southwest of England, and roughly doubled our estimated time to destination.

We drove past signs for an event called the Buddhafield Festival. This event lasted four days in the Blackdown Hills of Somerset. My son in law, our intrepid driver and my interlocutor for the journey, since I sat next to him (riding bitch, as my daughter pointed out)—and even though this involved sitting in the middle seat on the front bench, it ended up being one of the best parts of it all, since now we, my son and law and I, had a shared experience of, if not trauma, then at least an unanticipated—if not nightmare, then at least a super long van ride in a close space—with unpredictable teenagers in the back. Plus, one of my daughters is traveling while pregnant. So. Anyway, you know: the recipe for how great relationships are born!

What was I saying? Right: my son in law wondered who the acts at the Buddhafield Festival might be.

Buddhafield Festival, for your information, is not a music festival, despite being within hurling  distance of Glastonbury. No, according to its website, it is “a joyful gathering of around 4,000 people, celebrating community and connection with the land. Song, dance, arts and crafts, yoga, live music, meditation, and play blend together without drink or drugs to create a loving and life-affirming space. There will be Buddhist teaching, workshops and ritual, under sun and stars.” Perhaps it was because  we were packed into a nine passenger van, we noted with some smugness that the sun and stars were in rather short supply. Poor Buddhafield festival goers: instead of seeking enlightenment, they could have been like us, packed in a van, driving the hills, dales, and one-track country lanes of southwest England, wending their way toward Bath, with no realistic or reliable sense of when they might arrive. If ever. Talk about your nonattachment.

We did, finally, make it to Bath, which took us just six and a half hours as opposed to the three hours it was supposed to take. We fell into a Pret a Manger and ate all the food they had left, basically. Because our group is large, some of us drove in another car, so we reconnoitered outside the Pret, and readied ourselves to march on to the baths. 

Two of my daughters, who had been in the other car, reported that their Sat Nav had taken them right into Glastonbury. ‘We were all, oh, hey! We’re in Glastonbury!’ said one of them. The other said, ‘We saw the Tor.’

OMG, the people: the Glastonbury Tor has been (laughably, probably, but shut up) marked on my Google Map of Dreams for ever. Why did OUR Sat Nav not take us through Glastonbury? Instead, when we passed it by at some distance, I said to anyone who cared (no one), ‘Glastonbury is over there,’ and gestured toward the West. ‘The Chalice Well is over there. The Glastonbury Tor is over there.’ Gesture toward the west.

‘Did you take a picture?’ I asked. Reader, I think you know that the answer was NO, they did not take a picture, and thus I found myself so annoyed/disappointed/in a fit of pique that I had to turn my back on the whole group for one entire minute.
  It was drizzly in Bath, as it had been drizzly all day. The youngest of us was four, the oldest of us seventy-five. Variables, thus, included attention span, predisposition to be interested in the distant past, basic heed to be paid to things like ‘don’t touch the water, it’s not treated’ (for your information, this heedfulness/heedlessness does not map easily onto the age/maturity spectrum of our group—we had a lot of rulebreakers), need to have a thing purchased at the gift shop, &c &c. Still, despite or maybe even because of our prolonged journey, most of us found the experience beautiful and edifying and, simply, a look into another entire world, which happens to be our world, too.

The historian and I took a moment to think about our previous trip to Bath, twenty years ago, my memory of which is hazy: I remembered being down at the level of the baths, looking up, and seeing the line of sculpted figures, and beyond them, the medieval era buildings. I remember the sense of descending, physically descending, in time, to see how our world is built upon the past. I remember the way the water smelled—faintly metallic, steamy, earthly. 

To see it with these people. To see it now. To have the sense, in my body, that the life I am living now is built upon the past.

Rain on the water

Figures of three saints, but eerily echoing a Celtic form.  

My women.

After a Pizza Express dinner, where our server was so witty, cheery, and attentive to our mad group that I felt he deserved, like, a Guggenheim grant or something for his hospitality, we clambered back into our respective cars and drove three more hours to our Travelodge rooms in St. Helens, where we all fell into our beds and slept as if we had journeyed for days, for miles and leagues and eras and millennia. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Patience is a virtue, just not one of mine.

America, we are having the time of our lives on this trip. We had a close to perfect time in Ireland, although I admit that I have a few notes for a couple of the bed and breakfasts we stayed at, including this note: bed and breakfasts are just inherently kind of weird, a subject that I will perhaps engage at greater length at a later date, but for now, let me just say: coming into a stranger’s house, to sleep, and make/not make noise, and in general feel like an interloper, and they make you scones in the morning, and the eggs are just not quite right. But I digress.

Our Ireland trip was so good, and then the time came for our beloveds to fly back to America. We all said our goodbyes in the airport, and then the historian and I flew to London and paid an extravagant amount of money for a taxi because ugh, HEAVY BAG, and found ourselves dropped at a hotel’s front door. Possibly a hotel. A very nice, handsome young man begged our patience while he took a guest’s bag up the stairs. (I had read about this in the reviews: no elevators. No big deal, I thought.) He returned to look up my name, and lo, it was not there.

“May I see the booking number, please?” he said, respectfully.

I showed it to him. “Oh, you’re staying at the college,” he said, “not here.”

“Is that a hotel?” I asked, hopefully.

“It is not a hotel,” he said, firmly. “But you’ll be all right.”

We schlepped our bags (HEAVY) around the corner to the decidedly shabbier reception for the college. We retrieved our keys, then hauled the bags (&c) down the street a few more doors. “Georgian manors,” is a phrase the listing had said of the rooms. Well, maybe, but in fact what we had booked was a college dorm. A suite-ish, but still: college dorm-suite.

Oh, the flurry of feelings then to be articulated and aired! How furious was I? So furious. How terrible was it? Pretty terrible. Sort of terrible. Well, not terrible, just not delightful.

We poked around. The overhead light in the kitchen wouldn’t turn on. And although there was a washing machine—an amenity!—it would not work.

I called the phone number, which the young woman at reception had helpfully provided, with the assurances that I could call day and night if there was anything that needed to be attended to. I reported the outages with crispness, and asperity. “I’ll leave a note for facilities and they’ll see to it tomorrow,” she said, somewhat languidly, I thought, given the state of things.

We went out to get food. It was rather late, and we didn’t really have our bearings, since the address we thought we’d be staying at was actually halfway around the block, and who even KNOWS what north or south or east or west is, in London? Not a person who is staying in a college dorm, I can tell you that.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hightouchmegastore, why didn’t you just find another room, at a better hotel? Well, here’s the thing: we had only three days and four nights in London. Would it have been worth it (and would it have been worth it after all?) to work on finding other accommodations, and trying to decide about pursuing a refund for a room I purchased with points through a rewards portal (is that even a real thing? It totally sounds scammy, when I write it that way)? Well, maybe it would have been. In the end, though, we decided, over freekeh salads  (that *is* a thing, even though it sounds like fantasy world food) that we could at least give it a night and see. So we bought some yogurt and granola and strawberries and snacks at the Waitrose about seven minutes before it closed, and trekked back to our shabby digs, where we actually slept pretty well, and woke up to rooms that, though shabby, were light-filled, and decided we could make the best of it.

The next morning, a facilities guy did in fact show up and fix the wonky light in the kitchen. He was not, however, a washing machine fixit guy, he informed us. “If they haven’t fixed it in a week, give ‘em another call,” he advised.

I did not share with this handy person that we would likely never see the fruits of our having reported the non-functioning washing machine, since we’d be leaving sooner than a week. But I did share with the historian that I didn’t expect to see that washing machine working before we left. Once you’ve booked a college dorm room when you thought you were booking a hotel room, you lose confidence in the little graces.

Do you think this is my story’s happy ending—my new equanimity-stroke-cynicism? Well, it’s not. I am at this point, on the one hand, full of adventure and a strong sense of competence for having organized so many logistics for this trip (despite having booked a college dorm as a hotel, I’ll think about that later), and I am interested in walking very fast everywhere I go. In a word, I am impatient, raring to go and don’t slow me down, please. Meanwhile, to prepare for this trip, the historian systematically took care of a billion things, like the bills that would need to be paid while we were gone, getting the yard and the house ready for us to be gone, and  so many other things—so this morning, as we were getting ready to go, and we began talking about a money detail that necessitated, in his view, a call to our credit union back home, and I expressed myself in an impatient way that I regretted almost instantly, and said so. I felt anxious to make it right.

A couple of  hours or so later, when we had taken in the exhibit of Leonardo’s notebooks at the British Museum, I stood near a couple of giggly Italian women, and thought, ugh move along, gigglers. They were standing in front of one notebook folio, so close that no one else could even see the interpretive placard, just hogging the viewing space and giggling, and I admit it, I thought rude and uncharitable thoughts. I made what was probably an audible exasperated sound as I moved further along in the exhibit, where they weren’t taking up the space with their Italian giggling.

The historian and I sat in the cafe after that, to catch our breath after the intense museum-ing, and to check in with each other about what to do next—more in the British Library, or move along to the British Museum?

I recounted my exasperation with the gigglers. “They were just huddled so close to the glass, and you couldn’t even see the exhibit material. So rude! I thought to myself, quit your effing giggling and let me see the Leonardo pages!” I said to the historian . Then paused: “so that’s the person you’re married to.” (In the British Museum, there were so many people, so many that when I tried to navigate to the gallery with the thorn reliquary, then realized we were going the wrong direction, upon turning around as if a fish attempting to reverse course in a cascade of water, I said, in a cadence that escalated in volume, “This is UNACCEPTABLE.”

[“What was it I said on the stairs in the British Museum today?” I asked the historian, as I was thinking about writing this post.

“I think you said, ‘this is effing UNACCEPTABLE,” he offered.

“I don’t think I said effing,” I said. Hoping that I hadn’t, because I knew that the volume alone had been pretty aggressive.

This is who you’re married to, the historian. Seriously, I’m really so sorry.]

In case you’re wondering, they did come and fix the washing machine—the very afternoon after I had  expressed my grave doubts. And today, when we returned to our dorm, they had replaced that washing machine, which was actually working, with a brand new one, that created nothing short of a seismic event during the spin cycle. I’m still walking super fast and I will probably be patient when I’m dead. But it remains true that we are having a superb time, and the historian is really, truly,  the best of men.


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