Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Toward the end of the Oxford sojourn I have definitely had enough of the hostel. A bunch of clowns were yelling in German, playing a card game, really thumping down their cards chick with them has an exaggerated sneeze and I wonder what weird germs she's spewing all over the hostel's common room. It's after 11 on a weeknight and people are still watching TV, partying on the town. There's a queue of people in front of a club. Rain streaks the windows.

Tuesday: I wake up in a good mood despite the stuffiness and smelliness of the room...after I went to bed no one opened a window and the place stinks of old food, which I noticed when I got up to pee at 6 a.m.

I read my emails, or tried to. One of my mailboxes is down, my usually reliable I phoned my brother, Colin, who's in Thailand and because of my dental issues I am definitely going to go there.

Back in Londontown: In Stumbling Toward Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, I read that our imaginations are bad at envisioning what will make us happy, and the joy/sorrow others take in stimuli is a better predictor. As I sit on the 82 bus up Finchley Road on the way to see family, I don't see many smiles.

If I am to leave the UK soon--early November, probably-- I had better see what I want to see.

Thursday: An amazing and beautiful day. Instead of burying myself in the library to do promo, I instead walk through Regents Park toward Euston Square, where the Eva Air office is. I stopped in by chance at a travel agent who gives me a better deal on an upgraded ticket to Thailand than I had found on the internet. I research getting my's all set.

I'm going to Thailand on November 8.

Sunday, October 1: I’ve put everything away in Berta’s house and am settling in nicely.
Monday: Talked with Mom last night. When I asked how she was doing, she launched into this lengthy monologue about how dangerous their neighborhood was becoming and didn’t tell me that Colin had been ill. Roberta got that out of her when she talked with Mom.
Though she wanted to know when I’m getting a job. (Doesn’t the woman know about work permits and how hard they are to get?)
Wednesday: While R was at an appointment, I visited the Museum of the City of London. In an hour I got about two-thirds of the way through the place. Amazing exhibits though there was a startling gap in the late Tudor period. Right after I looked at portraits of Henry VIII there was Cromwell, as though at least six monarchs, including Elizabeth I, hadn’t reigned. Weird, but worth a return visit to finish the place off. The exhibits about prehistoric and Roman London were excellent. Medieval London wasn’t handled quite as well, but given that it was an entire millennium, I suppose it would be difficult to show in just a few exhibits how people lived, which is my primary interest. The complexity of the time was evident, though. I didn’t know that the wearing of certain garb was restricted to particular classes or occupations. Fascinating.
I am gradually gathering info on living here. How to get a passport….more difficult that one can imagine. Details about working. Where I can take Bikram yoga and play hockey. Getting a mobile phone.
Roberta is going to Bournemouth to visit Ashley toward the end of the month and I will take the opportunity to check out Oxford.

13 Oct 06:
A deal has been made to sell the house in Fair Oaks.
I am making lists of places I want to visit but strangely have no energy for leaving. I like it here and am getting settled in.
We visit Claygate, where my cousin Tricia and her family live. It’s in Surrey. We take a walk in the woods and gather chestnuts…very pleasant and I think about writing a kids’ fantasy type book about a dryad living in a cleft at the base of a chestnut tree. As is common with me and my imagination, the story promptly turns erotic when the dryad falls for a satyr disguised as a faun.
So much for becoming the next Tolkien or Rowling.
I research trips to Egypt and Israel. Sadly, the political situation is still such that one can’t do both at the same time. Ridiculous. It is also difficult to get to Egypt while arriving at any sane time of the day…flights leave and arrive at odd hours.
I see a dentist, who refers me to an oral surgeon. He will charge me 95 pounds merely to look at one of my teeth and render an opinion. Ghastly.
It is gradually coming to my notice that I cannot afford so much as a broom closet or a lean-to in London.

I have played twice, once at the Alexandra Palace with the London Legion and once at the Sobell Center with the Westminster Statesmen. Both are nice groups of people but the trip to the Ali Pali, as it is called, is torturous from St Johns Wood and no one on the team lives close by.
So the Statesmen it is and I buy a stick.
Trouble in paradise: Berta is now saying she needs her painting studio (my room) back and implying strongly that I need to leave. Well, I guess it’s OK for her to change her mind, though coming to this conclusion after I have gotten a British mobile phone, a pass to a London yoga studio, bought a hockey stick, opened a British bank account and given five publishers and an agent this address for the payment of royalties is rather inconvenient.
21 October: Oxford: I arrived yesterday afternoon at about 2 p.m. Two hostels here and I mistakenly went to the wrong one first. Boy, am I glad I was wrong! Snippy desk clerk, noisy and smoky common room, grubby kitchen…generally quite unpleasant. The right one, on Park End Street, is clean and cozy. Even in a dorm with 5 other women I slept OK, until close to 9 a.m.
Last night I went to the local rink to watch the Oxford women’s hockey team lose to a much more experienced (non-student) London hockey team. They lost 5-1 but put up a good fight. Their captain, a chemistry grad student with the amazing name of Georgia Gale Grant, invited me out to drink with them at the Mitre, a High Street pub so old and historic that it’s in the guidebooks. She bought me a pint of Guinness, ate fish and chips, and a thoroughly British evening was had by all.
Oxford is overrun with tourists (like me) but is nevertheless a wonderful place. It is really Harry Potter town and quite inspiring to me as a writer. Turning every corner, story ideas occur to me right left and center.
Sunday: I start to do more intense sightseeing, hitting the Ashmolean, which is, Christo-like, covered in plastic as it is enduring renovation. Most of Europe is under renovation.
I took the advice of one of the hockey gals and ate lunch at Fisher’s in St. Clement’s, picking the fish and chips. The chalked board inside the restaurant advertised Hayes Ranch Pinot Grigio from California (2004) at a mere 17 pounds for the bottle—a mere $30. I order the haddock, which is crisp and gorgeous. The chips are golden and crunchy and the mushy peas—a dish which I’d supposed was made with leftovers—were bright lime green and fresh.
It is gray and rainy outside, warm and cozy inside Fisher’s. So full of fish and chips that I skip dessert, I linger over a pot of tea.
On the way back into central Oxford from Fisher’s I stop into Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) College. First a walk down a ramp to photograph a canal with swans preening in the rain. Then I talked to the porter about attending Evensong at 6 after walking around the college, one of the few which allows visitors. He politely explained that I’d be safer if I explored earlier while it was still light rather than around 5:30 p.m. He was right—later it was dark, so say nothing of the clouds and rain shadowing the dusk.
After tea in the High Street I go to Evensong. I’m not religious but I’ve been told that the service, including a men’s choir, is lovely.
And it is.
Re: Potter, Oxford and Hogwarts: the hockey gals mentioned that Hogwarts, being composed of different locations around Oxford, is quite disorienting to someone familiar with the place. One minute you’re in the New College quad (where Draco was transformed into a ferret) and the next, you’re in the Christ Church great hall, where the mealtimes and sdtudy halls at Hogwarts are filmed.
On Oxford weather: exactly the opposite of London, where it is cloudy and rainy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon. Here there may be an hour or two of sun in the late morning, and then it rains.
The Swedish girls sharing the room turn out to be surprisingly sweet, considering that two of them talked until two my first night there when the rest of us wanted to sleep. On Sunday at about midnight they started to question me—wanted to know everything! Turned it around of course, and discovered they’re from Helsingborg. They told me a funny story—apparently their town is known for its great climbing, and whenever an ambulance drives through, it’s a Dane who’s fallen off the mountain. Not funny in retrospect, but it was cute when they told me about the clumsy Danes. One of them, Alexandra, is an au pair in nearby Fairford. She says it is not very interesting, and the other four girls came over from Sweden to visit her.
They recommended Prague—everyone does—and Berlin for Christmas and New Year’s.
That is probably not going to happen as I have decided to go to Thailand to get my teeth fixed.
Sounds crazy, I know, but Colin is there and says he got his entire mouth done for 2K, while it will probably cost me 2K to get one tooth done here in London.
12:30 Monday: I eat lunch at the top of Carfax Tower, which I climbed for the views of Oxford’s "dreaming spires," cellular towers and cranes. After a sunny morning it has clouded up again and I’m guessing it will rain in the afternoon—perfect museum weather.
I should do promo tonight—send out messages and electronic copies of Triangle to reviewers. It’s a great book that hasn’t received nearly the attention it deserves. I don’t know how it has sold but I haven’t heard of a 2d printing, unlike Walk. Mysterious since it is a much better book.
Then did two museums and Christ Church College, site of many HP scenes.
Future thinking: I will go to Thailand then back here, then maybe back to the states just before Mom comes over. Visit San Diego, stay in the Tahoe house in April and May before attending hockey camp.
Or not.
I can stay in Thailand where it’s cheap as long as I can handle the hot weather, and then maybe go to Alaska where it’s affordable and tolerable (weather wise).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here's the latest issue of Sue Swift's Books, my newsletter from yahoo groups:

Lots of new news for fans of my writing. Most importantly, my latest book, Triangle, is now available.

Of course, you can view the cover, read a blurb and an excerpt at my site,

Triangle is my first murder mystery and I am very proud of it. Reviewers have praised the book, stating:

"…a lot of action with well developed characters…You won't be disappointed…Good to the last sentence!"
Jackie Fleming, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Mostly Mystery Reviews

"TRIANGLE is a swift moving amateur sleuth investigative tale...Fans will enjoy this fine at sea thriller. "
--- Harriet Klausner

As it is published by a small press, Five Star, which specializes in hardcover editions for the library market, the best place to purchase it is online. You can also request it at your local bookstore or ask your library to purchase it.

The winner of my latest contest is Ellie L., of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Congratulations, Ellie! She will receive a gift certificate from, good for any book or other product of her choice.

The new blog: as some of you know, I am recently separated. Since I don't have children, I decided to fulfill a long-held dream and travel to Europe for an extended period of time. I have picked London as my home base and will spend the next six months or so exploring Europe and the near east. For more information on my travels, check out my blog, Enjoy!

And do remember to pick up a copy of Triangle. You won't be disappointed!

Warmest regards,

Sue Swift

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Here are some photos taken by another WFF attendee, Isolde Wehr.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sunday 24 Sept…Explored the Barisano, a part of the Sassi with which I am not familiar. Went to the train station in the afternoon, walking through the modern, less interesting part of Matera. Had dinner with Eileen Dreyer at the Hemingway, the bar which put on most of the cocktail parties for the conference (and did a damned fine job).

Monday: I dreamed that Liz Slatter called me last night, telling me that she hadn’t committed suicide, it was all a silly mistake, and everything was fine. I dreaded telling her that Ethel had died, instead timidly asking, “Have you talked with your mother yet?” She straightaway said “Oh yes, she’s fine.”

When I awakened, I realized Liz had killed herself because she had ceased taking joy from life.

Tuesday 26 Sept 06: Cranking huge storm started at 3 a.m. Not a moment too soon…had been threatening since noon and spattering from 7b onwards. Town needed to be cleaned up a bit, too; lots of dogs and feral cats, and no one appears to clean up after them.

Meeting Liz for coffee today. Must get it together to find a place to live!

THE HUNT IS ON!!! Checked out four places. The first was utterly gorgeous but 1000 euros per month! Well out of my price range…but newly renovated, decorated with antiques and with a new kitchen and a wonderful sleeping loft. The second under renovation by Dottore Cinnella’s nephew Michele, who owns the restorante Bruna, and it’s near the restaurant in the Sassi. Great location near the Piazzas VV and Sedile. It would be ready in a few weeks and would be 400 euros per months. Quite nice, barrel vaulted ceilings, sleeping area set off from the main room by a large archway…but few windows and the bedroom very dark. This is not necessarily bad as one wants one’s sleeping area to be dark.

Third place bigger, less expensive but I just didn’t get a good feeling from it. It’s just north of the Sassi on Via S. Stefano with a fabulous view of the Barisano and the gorge. Lots of windows with no window coverings and NO HEAT. In a place that gets snow in the winter, there’s no way.

Place number 4: Small but immaculate, and the price is definitely right—just 300 euros per month—but the location, not. On the Via Beccarie a stone’s throw from the Piazza Sedile. I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. It’s a busy street with a carpark a half-block away, and when I say on the street, I mean it. You open the door and you’re in the studio. Wouldn’t work at all.

Sooo…next day I saw another studio, worked my contacts and all to no avail. I nearly did make a deal with a fellow named Luigi for a studio but there wasn’t a kitchen. He claimed he was going to put one in, but as there was no sink and no plumbing…not. But I feel sure that I will find a place. When I return, it will be close to November, and the b&bs will be empty. The owners likely will be desperate to fill their rooms for the winter season.

Friday, 29 Sept 06: A long day of travel. I have to check out of the Vicinato by 10. I do so, then go to the Lionetti to say goodbye to Bruna and Michaela, who have been so good to me. Michaela isn’t there, but I give Bruna a couple pair of earrings, one set for her and one for Michaela. She is sweet and very appreciative. I go to the provincial library to work, and by 1 p.m. realize that I have really done quite well this week. Since arriving in Matera, I have edited two manuscripts and finished a third. I go to yet another that needs work and set to it.

I eat lunch, then return at 2. They kick me out…the library’s closing until the next day. Damn. I thought it would be open until 6:30, and now I have no where to go. Matera, like many Italian towns, literally closes down from 2-5. Everyone eats, takes naps, has affairs and so on.

Fortunately the weather is decent. I lounge around on the steps of the Banca di Napoli in the Piazzi Victor Vittoria, watching a green, golfcart sized truck with the logo of Il Buongiusto chug along in front of me. It stops at the store, where the driver takes delivery of a large, elaborately wrapped gift and some other parcels…all the other shops on the square are closed and the only life is a tour group crossing it and entering the Sassi.

I have nothing to do for three hours until I’m to be picked up and taken to the Bari airport for my plane flight to London Stansted. I guess I’ll read and doze…it’s irreverent, but maybe if a church is open I can nap on a back pew.

But I can’t move. I lean my head back against one of the Banco’s smooth marble pillars and close my eyes. A group of overexcited Italians, one clearly drunk, soon invade my steps, and I move to the Sedile. I drink a grapefruit juice, file my nails, drowse in the sun. It’s 3:30 and even the flies are moving very slowly.

The afternoon is graying toward dusk when I decide to buy an ice cream and take a walk.

1:10 a.m. Saturday 30 Sept 06: I want to go home. Not to Sacramento but to San Diego, where I want to live with Wendy and the boys. That’s probably where I belong. That’s where I have experienced my most clear feelings of belonging-ness, of rightness, of knowing I was where I needed to be, should be, and was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Yesterday was a bloody hellacious day. Period.

To pick up where I left off: I had an interesting conversation with the driver who took me from Matera to the airport in Bari. The trip took a whole hour. The bus takes as long. The train—longer.

So Matera just isn’t a good jumping off point for the travel I want to do around Europe. But another option is to plant myself there until the end of the year. A lady in the Bari airport, who lives in another southern Italian town, told me that the weather is decent until the New Year, but January, Feb and March are really cold, below freezing. On top of that I’d be living in a cave. Is that nuts or what?

Sooo…I get on the plane at 9:30 p.m. Tired as an insomniac bear in January, I alternately doze and read. Fortunately, Aline Tayar’s book is very good.
Get to Stansted after three hours, 11:30 local time. Stansted is now much more pleasant now that smoking is not allowed indoors…the Bari airport was OK, too.

I get a taxi to a grotty Days Inn and realize that Ryanair is a false economy. The flight, with the change I had to make, cost me nearly $300. Taxis to and from the Days Inn were about 30. The room, about $100. Train from Stansted to London, 35. I could probably have taken an Alitalia, British Airways or Virgin flight at a normal time for the same amount of money for much less hassle. NEVER AGAIN.

I evolve Sue’s rule of 9 to 9 travel: on a travel day, never plan to leave your home before 9 am.m or to arrive at your destination after 9 p.m.

The Days Inn SUCKS. I was initially sent to a dirty room. Next room OK, but because of the toiletries ban on flights, I have no skin cream or toothpaste. HATE that.

Bed’s nice, though!

Looking forward to getting to Berta’s, getting my stuff out of her cramped but nice quarters and over to Liz Swift’s. Poor thing, with Li so sick she really needs company. Her email sounded very eager.

Must decide what to do!

Sunday October 1: Roberta says smugly, England’s a green and pleasant land. She is so right. Just a half-hour on the train, looking out the window, and I’m ready to live here and never leave. Everything that has happened so far does nothing to convince me otherwise.

Noticing I had grown a potbelly whilst in Italy-no workouts and too much fatty food—I ran yesterday and today for twenty minutes per jog around St John’s Wood. No dog or cat poop on ground.

Love to hang out with Berta. On Saturday, phone calls from various cousins, and one came round for lunch. Had dinner with another cousin, his wife and their two darling little boys. Next day, more phone calls and cousin Sara Lennard has a line on a reasonably priced flat. Berta wants me to live with her J. Being embraced by my family feels good…besides, and Berta says, England is a green and pleasant land. As I stated when I started this blog, there is nowhere I feel as home as in England.