Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

12 Nov 06: Today would have been my brother Keith’s 57th birthday. Must phone Wendy and Mom.

Tuesday 14 Nov: Today I looked over a receipt and noticed belatedly that a cashier overcharged me for some water. Later a tuk-tuk driver did a clever bait and switch routine involving 500 and 100 baht bills. Brett has told me that many Thai regard westerners as walking ATMs and he’s right. I saw my dermatologist yesterday and, interestingly enough, her proposed treatment regimen exactly matches the length of time I can stay in Thailand (I have two tourist visas totaling 120 days). Coincidence? I think not.

In any event I don’t want to stay in Chiang Mai the whole four months. Not sure where I want to go…the beach towns in the south are bound to be too hot for me; heck, its too hot here! And the air pollution is appalling.

I have rented a little apartment near Brett and Anong’s jewelry store and also near shopping, restaurants and a gym. It’s quite nice though small, and no kitchen, which doesn’t matter since prepared food here is very inexpensive, especially from the street vendors. It’s incredible to see someone prepare green papaya salad for me to order, utterly fresh.

Right now I’m sitting in the University’s Dental Clinic to get a second opinion regarding my dental care. I’m going to move out of my hotel tonight and tomorrow I’m going on the jungle trek.

I just saw Dr. Surawat and I feel a lot better. He says that my dentist, Dr. Surachai, is just fine, had been one of his students, and the clinic I’m going to is owned and run by the dean of the dental school, an oral surgeon.

The trek: Eleven tourists are crammed into the back of a pickup truck, which has been fitted with a roof and thinly padded benches down both sides. Another trekker is in the front and our two guides (I think of them as our minders) cling to the backpacks untidily lashed to the top of the roof. We consist of three older Dutch couples, all of whom know each other; a younger Dutch couple, a doctor and her salesman husband, on their honeymoon, a twenty-something German couple, a young Japanese guy, and me.

After picking up food in Mai Ram, a suburb of Chiang Mai, we drive int3erminably until we get into the mountains. Bobby, the head minder and cook, serves lunch and then we head out for our first hike in a miasma of bug repellent, totally unnecessary since no mosquitoes are around in this hot, dusty afternoon. Unfazed by the weather, Bobby starts to hum “Country Roads, Take Me Home” as we begin.

The older Dutch are hilarious. Everything is a trauma, even the4 littlest stream which crosses our path. Though I have to admit this first day was brutal. 4 hours beginning in the hottest part of a hot day and ending in total darkness.

We began walking along a dusty road and, after 45 minutes or so, turned off into the forest. The track remained rough and rocky, heading upwards, sometimes at 45 de3gree angles. Gradually more foliage softened the mountains. Bamboo forest mostly, real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon terrain.

The rice harvest gave the walk up the mountain added interest. We saw it in various stages—golden paddies, some with cut rice stalks bundled and set on the long stubble; women threshing the dried stalks on tarps, with others collecting the grain in big sacks.

Down was much easier than up as we descended into a cool mountain valley, misty and humid. The rocky trail quickly gave way to a smoother, red clay path. We saw few animals or plants of interest. The German dude, Markus, has a real fondness for spiderwebs and photographed several. One was more than a web, it was more like a spider condo, constructed with a big open ring in the center, I guess to lure and trap unwary insects.

The day darkened into a warm, misty dusk. We passed one village of White Karenn, called so due to the color of their traditional ceremonial garments. Unbelievably picturesque, nestled among golden rice fields near a stream fringed with greenery. Not, unfortunately, where we were to spend the night.

So on we walked. Night was falling rapidly. Full dark arrived but we hadn’t, but instead were stumbling along an uneven, unlit jungle train with no trace of moon or star piercing the mist to help us on our way.

I took out my flashlight—torch as they’re known around here—as did others. We were told 10 more minutes, then again, and again.

10 minutes my left buttcheek. 30 was more like it, dodging cowpies and jumping streams.

But now I’m cuddled in my thin quilt, which is laid out with a dozen others on the bamboo floor of a hut, waiting for dinner. Taka, the Japanese dude, is right next to me. Though it’s pitch black I know he’s already asleep because I can hear him. I’m not sure of the name of the older Dutch guy on my other side but he’s taken off his shirt. I try not to look. No nightmares please!

I imagine that the village is quite picturesque—but who knows? It’s really dark. Dogs snarl and pigs grunt. Cooking smells gradually fill the air J. One of the motor scooters all young Thai seem to favor leaves, putt-putting into the night.

Thursday Nov 16: I barely slept last night—maybe three hours. I awakened ice cold wanting to pee, but I didn’t care to venture out. So I held it until dawn, which was, like, forever. I don’t think that was why I didn’t sleep. It was the cold, aching hips, noisy neighbors, etc etc. Taka, bless him, seems capable of sleeping through everything, but not me.

I learned later that no one slept well, except Taka, who told me that he does indeed sleep through everything.

The morning is cool and misty, very lovely, but I see why Bobby took us to this village in the dark. It’s much more appealing. I can now see that it’s startlingly primitive, dogs scrapping, chickens squawking, piglets everywhere. Surprisingly cute. The place isn’t smelly, which is really surprising.

As I awaken, my temper improves. I figure I’ll take some ibuprofen and hope for the best.

Breakfast is simple—toast, hard boiled eggs, and raw chunks of what Bobby says is a kind of Thai sweet potato. It tastes like jicama. Tea and coffee.

We set out about 9, amazing for this lot. The walk this morning starts mellow but since we are slated to climb three mountains, turns brutal quickly. Again, 45 degree slopes. Still, its easier than yesterday since most of the trails are packed red clay. We walk through a meadow between mountains 1 and 2. The mountains have been clad with lush foliage, and the meadow with flowery shrubs. The third mountain is less lush, the terrain steeper, rockier, and by the time I descend the last slope, my legs are shaky from fatigue.

At the river, the bridge is pure Tom Sawyer at Disneyland—heavy wire with boards across, huge gaps between boards. By now it’s cool and exciting but not scary at all. I cross with ease since it’s much easier than the wide stream with the “bridge” of bamboo stalks laid lengthwise, or the one with the very awkward stepping stones. I needed help with noth of those.

I reach camp first after Bobby and race to the toilet. It’s Thai style, meaning that running water is used to flush the bowl. This is why all the toilets are so clean—basically flushing them means cleaning them. I use the hose to wash since I’m again a total grubby sweatball. I change my shirt and reapply sunscreen.

Everyone gets in and arranges themselves. We sit at long wooden tables beneath a thatched palapa and eagerly wait for Bobby to prepare lunch…all his meals have been great. Ladies in “traditional” Thai hill tribe dress try to sell us jewelry, pipes, tiny purses with sequined elephants and pink frogs. I politely refuse and they wander off. They’re wearing wraparound print skirts with T-shirts and a purple bag slung diagonally across from one shoulder to the hip.

Taka’s seated at a distance away, stretching, and one of the ladies approaches him. He’s too nice a guy to give her the brush off, and examines her wares, making a deal for a pipe. The moment he pulls out money the rest of the women descend on him the way we descend on lunch. He’s nice, but nice doesn’t work on this group of avid salesladies. Finally he flaps his hands to scatter them as though they’re gnats.

My past continues to linger, and my future to trouble me. I awakened with the realization that about six months had passed since Keith died. Another lesson…nothing is permanent, an obvious truism in a land where 95% of the people are Buddhists.

Nothing is permanent…not the people we love. Not my marriage. Not even the earth beneath my feet. We learn about igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks in elementary school. We know that volcanoes build mountains and erosion tears them down. Tectonic plates move, shift, toss buildings and forests about like Pick-up stix in the hands of a playful god. All this we’re told at an early age…but do we really understand impermanence until we experience shattering loss?

As for the future…I walk with one of the Dutch ladies, who has the improbable name of Nini (rhymes with Mimi). A Thai who’s lived in Holland most of her life, she’s an insurance adjuster. I realize that’s a job I could do.

I also think about renewing my membership in the California Bar and advising writers on their contracts. Lord knows I’m qualified J

Three elephants come, two adults and a baby. Not the ones we’ll ride to the next village. Those show up a few minutes later at about 2:15, and cool off in the river. I gather my things and repack.

The elephant ride is long, uncomfortable and quite amazing. I rode in an angular wooden seat with Marielle, and her husband Francis was in front of us actually sitting on the elephant. I really regretted wearing short shorts because then I could have sat on the elephant. As it was, I was afraid that my thighs would get abraded by the elephant’s thick hide and bristly hairs, so Francis with the longer pants got the cool seat between our elephant’s ears.

Elephant back is a slow but pleasant mode of travel. Bit nerve-wracking at first, especially when getting on. You step on the elephant’s head and then into the boxlike wooden seat (which is needlessly uncomfortable—had I known I would have taken a towel with me for padding).
When the elephant started to walk I looked down…it was a fairly long way. I watched its massive round feet, with each with three big stubby toenails, ponderously touch down, first almost tentatively, then firmly settling on the earth.

We headed for the river…another scary moment when the elephants descended the riverbank into the water. It seems very steep, as though we’re going to tumble off their backs, but when I looked back I saw that the slope was unimpressive. From elephant-back, it just seemed steep and treacherous.

After that, it’s all fun, but dull after a while, except for the view, which is excellent. The landscape, already forested, green, and pretty, became even more lush. Here, at the last village where we’ll stay, the jungle appears to be rainforest, huge trees hung with lianas. Lovely.

This village is well-set-up for tourists and indeed we are not the only group here. Excellent shower facilities—very important…I have always been grateful for fresh running water and now am even more grateful. I wonder how all the villages we’ve visited get their water and people speculate that here in the mountains, in such a wet climate, there are bound to be many springs and wells with clean water. What a blessing.

Someone mentioned that this is a village of Bobby’s tribe. It’s nice. Primitive by American standards but comfy and with everything most people need. Not the plethora of farm animals like last night, but lots of chickens and only a few dogs. It’s got a lanai facing the river, with a great view. That’s where I’m sitting now.

The gang stayed up late last night playing Dutch and Japanese drinking games. We had a great time and I regretted having to stop early (well, earlier than everyone else) since my tummy was a little unruly…I didn’t want to get too plastered since it was hard to get to the toilet toasted and in the dark. So I lay down and listened to “ping pong pang!” until I fell asleep to Bobby leading everyone in “Country Roads “ (evidently one of his faves).

I woke to cocks crowing long before dawn. We ate, packed and left on bamboo rafts, easily the best part of this excursion. It was a two hour float that seemed shorter. I could easily have gone the whole way to Chiang Mai by raft.
The rafts were flat and long, lengths of bamboo lashed together and poled left or right to steer.

The float was by and large mellow punctuated by occasional mild rapids. It was hella fun. The scenery was incredible, mostly bamboo forests, again more CTHD stuff.

Marielle, at the front of our raft behind Bobby, led the wave between the three rafts. Everyone had a great time. I had a giant blister on one toe from the Converse-style zebra-striped tennies I had worn on the hikes, and I was sure glad to have the nice cool water on my feet the entire way.

The day, which had begun misty, soon featured shafts of sunlight shooting through the trees, lighting the river. Taka, at the back of our raft, continued to entertain us by first losing a steering pole, then breaking another in two claiming it was too long, then nearly losing the last bit of the remaining pole. He then drank two Changs at lunch (which was pad thai) and I wondered what he’d do in the afternoon.

No such luck…the afternoon was mostly spent in the truck L going to a really boring waterfall. I could have done without that. Upon returning to Chiang Mai I was grateful to get to my room, take a shower and fall asleep.

Saturday, 18 Nov: Today is my darling niece Kayla’s 18th birthday, so I sent her a Victoria’s Secret gift certificate by email. I know she’ll like that—she’s a VS junkie. One of her ambitions is to be a VS model and why not? She certainly has the looks.

I did net stuff, shopped
, ate, and plan to spa this afternoon at a local place. This location is superb—
everything is within walking distance.

Chiang Mai on a Saturday night…I sit at a streetcorner café with a salad and a mango lassi. I’m in a slinky new sarong wrap in an eyecatching shade of orange, a snug top no glasses and light makeup. Feeling hot. Tonight I plan to write, and tomorrow do more shopping for towels and a bath mat—a few things to set u p my apartment. I also will go to the local gym, join and work out.

It actually feels as though it’s going to be a cool evening…I was quite cold last night, my first in my apartment, since I had no blankets and hadn’t figured out how to switch off the a/c. Oops.

I’m alone but not lonely. I’m tense about the writing. What if it sucks? What if I start and can’t finish a book (again?).

I guess in that case I’ll work on this blog.

A writer between books can be a very worried person. I just had two novels a new short story and a short story be reprinted, but fewer than 100 people have bought one of the books. I have no figures on anything else yet. Nothing else is slated to come out, all my publishers have the same (incorrect) London address and I don’t know what to write next. Nothing is compelling me.

Sunday, November 19: Met Connie, who also lives in this apartment complex. She’s also divorced and we told each other our stories. Though it’s been two years for her she’s still deeply hurt. I told her what my friend Crystel said, “Be patient with yourself.” And also I’m reminded of the value of compassion.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thailand: the new adventure

Life doesn’t get more interesting than this!

Ever since I wrote a report on Thailand in the 6th grade, I’ve been intrigued by this place. Now I’m on my way to this beautiful country…I’m sitting in Row 23, seat A of EVA Air’s Elite class, waiting for takeoff.

When I arrive, I will leave Bangkok straightaway, since I’m told it’s so polluted that people wear face masks, and go to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s 2d largest city, located in the cooler north of the country. It’s population is only a quarter million, IMO a manageable size.

The state of my teeth, and the over-the-top expense of dental treatment in the UK, has prompted this trip. It doesn’t hurt that Thailand in many ways is dirt cheap as opposed to the very pricey UK with its increasingly chilly climate.

The plane is OK. I’m in a slightly better than coach seat, more comfy than United business class but less leg room, less tilt to the chair. Dinner OK, better than US economy food (not saying much I know). Movies plentiful but screen tilt poor resulting in a dark and disappointing view. Lots of music to choose from and I nap to the best of Chris Isaak.

I awaken halfway through the flight and we are flying into a lovely peachy dawn. A city covers the dark earth beneath me and the interactive map on my screen reveals that its Tbilisi.

We pass over an unknown stretch of water north of Tehran. Clouds like rifts and waves float with grace over the land to my left, even further north of our flight path.

It’s another beautiful day…later, though, it turns cloudy. 4 hours out of Bangkok, the sky clears. The country below, in Pakistan, is hugely ridged and folded, massive mountain ridges, deep and threatening.

We eat breakfast. I help the elderly English lady seated next to me, Violet Walker, open her tiny plastic tub of creamer; she is having difficulty with it and describes it as “naughty.” So British. Out the window I can see the ocean and the jagged coast of Burma. Now we are an hour away from landing. It is 7:40 a.m. Uk time, 3 p.m. local. I am thrilled.

The land appears to be gently rolling and broken by a muddy river. The Irriwaddy?

3:30 local time and we are falling through the sky, approaching Bangkok. The land below gleams with water. Rice paddies? Makes no sense since I believe its harvest time. Then a gentle mist, humidity perhaps, obscuring detail.

The plane turns, dives, lands. It is 93 degrees F, 33 C and hazily sunny.

5:45 local time…Airport is wacky, busy-busy but everything is easy until I try to get a flight to Chiang Mai. Everything is booked but I call Brett who assures me that Thai Air will get me on a plane. They like their flights jam-packed. I am on standby for the 7:00 flight and find a restaurant. I’m parched so I order a drink, soup and a salad. I have gained 15 lbs since leaving California less than two months ago and the diet starts now, where I hope to be aided by the local (healthy) cuisine.

Friday 8 November: I am staying at the Vingbua Mansions in Chaing Mai for $25 American per night and everything I need. Slept excellently last night, ate breakfast and then my friend took me to a spa his wife recommended. A body scrub, a Thai massage and a facial later and I’m a sleepy but happy woman. After a bite to eat and a nap I’m even better.

Chiang Mai is a bit like Mexico 30-40 years ago but much safer and without the horrible poverty cheek-by-jowl with wealth that characterized parts of Mexico. Crowded, busy, streets full of cars and scooters, plus lots of open taxis called tuk-tuks. It is not, in general, a pretty city, though some streets, especially the ones with canals running down the center, are nice. If they’d buried the utility poles and planted more trees, it would be a much nicer place.

Traffic regulations appear to be advisory rather than mandatory. Double yellow lines are suggestions, and people drive on rather than in between the white ones…my late father, bless him, would have been right at home.

Though the streets are untidy and the air polluted, the Thais are very clean. I have yet to see a dirty toilet. They also have a strong aesthetic…the spa I visited was lovely, with shining wood floors and walls; the showers not only were tiled but had decorative stones and plants all around.

My hotel room is quite nice, more like a suite than a room. A small sitting room with a love seat and a TV; then a bedroom; then a little dressing room with adjoins the bathroom and the balcony. Not much of a view, alas.

The loveliness of most interiors contrasts with the ugliness of most of the exteriors. The wats (temples) are interesting and often richly decorated, but many buildings are outright horrid. Perhaps I notice this since I was just in London, one of the world’s most architecturally fascinating and beautiful cities. Almost anywhere suffers by comparison. Most parts of Sacramento are certainly no treat for the eye.

I sit outside as the day wanes in the little garden that fronts my hotel. It has a few small tables, a scrap of lawn and several large urns with floating flowers.

…bless him, the waiter brings me a beer, served with a chilled glass filled with ice.

Saturday night, 11 Nov 06:

Last night we went to a restaurant, really nice, the kind of place that normal middle class Thais frequent, or so Anong and Brett said. Lots of wood, matting and plants. Pretty good band doing soft rock covers, lots of C&W--apparently Thais love C&W.

Today was busy. Brett picked me up on his scooter (everyone seems to drive one of these) at 10 a.m. and took me to his dermatologist, who referred me to a plastic surgeon. We went to a couple of malls, had lunch with Anong and then I got a desperately needed haircut--a fairly short pixie cut so I don’t have to deal with it for awhile. I am not sure I like how I look but I rarely have liked how I look, so why not have a convenient haircut?

Then we went to Brett’s dentist and I made an appointment for Monday. Also booked a 3 day, 2 night jungle trek for next week.


Back to the hotel…wandered around a bit, bought a charger for my phone and replaced its SIM card. So I have a working mobile. If anyone wants to phone, email me for the number.

Took a shower and rested before dinner. It’s hot here and that’s tiring, in addition to the very busy day.

Brett, Anong and her daughter Manau, who’s about 13, picked me up and took me for dinner to a place that seemed like a giant outdoor barbecue, Thai style. A bunch of tables were outside under a giant awning, and each had two braziers, one with a pot of water and the other with a grate, with wood coals. Long tables were set out with various stuff to cook, and we grilled shrimp on the barbie and made soup and cooked meat over the other brazier. Vendors were grilling chicken satay stick and I must have eaten at least 10. Other tables offered fixings for green papaya salad.

It was awesome. We drank Heineken out of huge bottles with ice, and peeled and ate shrimp until bursting.

Later I had to shower again since every cell and pore were permeated with smoke.

At twelve midnight unbelievably couldn’t sleep and even more unbelievably, was hungry. Broke into the minibar and ate the Lays potato chips--Thai chilli flavor.

I have a new addiction…so much for the diet.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sue's blog....Halloween edition!

On Halloween night I took two walking tours--one a haunted pub tour and the other one done by London Walks. Both were good but the London Walks one was brilliant. The tour leader was dressed in black, cape, toque, boots and everything in between. Whiteface with Goth black eyepaint and lipstick, and he took us to some delightfully spooky areas of old London.

Yesterday I visited Uncle Li in hospital for the first time, looking for Allison. He was sitting up and looked better than I expected. He said it was lovely to see me :) always a nice thing to hear :) and I told him I'd stop by again. I didn't want to stay long to tire him out.

On the way out I did bump into Allison, who looked fabulous as usual. She and Liz have such a great sense of style. We chatted briefly.

Had supper at Rochelle's, with cousin Eddie off in France looking at properties with Uncle Mo. The boys were charming. I read a few books to them and of course they wanted more...the younger one was too restless to sleep, while the older, who now attends school, was clearly exhausted, poor thing.

I picked up my visa at the Thai Embassy. As promised, two tourist visas for 60 days each. The document, pasted into my passport, is way cool, filling an entire page with all kinds of bright colors and interesting stamps.

Am on a train to Brighton. It's a sunny, beautiful day, so bright that I move to the other side of the train to get out of the sun.

It's not even 2:30 and my will is faltering. I've only been here two hours...walked down Queen Street (an appropriate name considering what I've been told about Brighton's inhabitants) to the shore of the English Channel. The water is lined with a rocky bech of small, smooth stones rather than sand. The sea is flat and dead calm, perfect for skipping stones. I walked the charming pier, then skipped the Sea Life Aquarium...I've been to the Maui Marine Aquarium and am going to Thailand, so I thought it rather redundant.

Went to the Prince Regent's Pavilion, where I'm now resting in the music room. The entire place is a Regency-era explosion of faux Oriental excess. Every centimeter of the palace is gilded, festooned and embroidered with dragong, palm trees, pagodas and the like. Quite brilliant and fantastic. Predominant colors and red and gold, with some rooms done in blue or sea green added as a cooler counterpoint.

Sunday: So Thursday was Brighton, and Friday Bert went to Trisha's in Claygate for a couple of days. I took my hockey bag over to Liz's house and stuck it in their garage. Saw Li again; he'd faded a tad...another chat with Allison, who thinks I should go blond and move to Israel. Apparently all the men there are "potty" about blue eyed blondes. Had dinner at Mo and Lo's last night, delightful of course.

On Saturday I took another London Walks tour, this one of an area of London locally called Little Venice. It's a part of the West End shafted by canals initially built and used for transport of goods from England's industrial heartland to Docklands. It's dominated by semi-Italianate neo-Clasic arthitectire, which as I've said is not my favorite, though there are some quite nice Victorian and Edwardian apartment blocks. The tour was led by the same guy who did the Halloween night tour, Shaughan, and he was again fabulous, especially compared to thedude who did an evening tour I later took, though Hampstead's pubs. This fellow seemed as though he'd rather have been anywhere else. Still, saw some quite interesting things.

It's Sunday, and I had planned to take the Jewish Quarter tour, but Colin phoned twice this morning and made me late. The upshot of all that is that he is returning to the states because the girls really need him. I hope he'll return to Thailand, but in the meantime, I am not joining him in Koh Lanta but will be going instead to Chiang Mai, where we have a mutual friend, Brett, who's lived there for quite some time. He's married and runs a jewelry store. This actually suits me fine since I am only medium on beachy hot places, and Chiang Mai, the 2d largest city in Thailand, is in the mountains and cooler. So I'll see what that's like.

I met a nice couple from Singapore, not a couple exactly but business associates. They are involved with Singapore Walks and gave me a card, telling me to come to Singapore. Perhaps I shall. It's not far one one is in SE Asia. But there are only a limited number of places I want to see outside Thailand. Perhaps it's my American myopia, but foremost on my to-do list are Angkor in Cambodia and the Taj in India.

I took a Harry Potter tour Sunday evening and quit it in disgust. I was not the only one disappointd. Waste of five pounds.

It's now Tuesday morning Nov 5??? and I have been working on getting a hotel in Chiang Mai...tough since we are approaching the high season.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saturday, October 28: we go to the Tate Modern to meet Maggie. I studied art between 1972-76, modern art intensively in 72-73. The primary focus of the modern artist is the dehumanization of people in the modern world, so much so that the theme has really become a cliche. The great irony of the modern world is that the more humans that there are, the more dehimanized we have become, or at least are perceived to have become.

Ultimately the modern artists' view is rather joyless and depressing. All of cubism is a metaphor for the turn-of-the-century--that everything was breaking up, coming apart

Duchamp's large glass, more properly called The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, an "approved" copy of which is here, is about the separateness of men and women, and the mechanical nature of sex. I liked the version I saw once, the original, in which the glass had been broken and then the sculpture had been reconstructed...I liked the metaphor.

As we move toward minimalism and abstraction the artrowks look more like they have been manufactured by machine rather than made by hand. Another metaphor.

The interesting aspect of these are the unplanned imperfections. The shadows in the marble stones in Hepworth's Three Shapes. The cracks in other works caused by aging--unplanned, I am sure.

The pieces I thought most effective were a set of mirrored cubes and a suspended, open square of fiberglass whch enclosed a space without actually cutting it off from the rest of the world.

A number of works are about the artist's perceptions, and they often overestimate how interesting these perceptions are. There's a lot of self-indulgence in modern art, which IMO is caused or at least exaggerated by our culture of celebrity.

Ate lunch in the members' cafe with Berta and her art buddies. Post-Tate I walked along Bankside to the Globe. No plays on at this time; they ended in early October. Too bad I hadn't known--it would have been cool to see a play there. I took some stone steps down to the murky Thames. Strangely, in several trips to Britain, this was the first time I ahd actually walked along the riverbank, though we'd punted in the Thames Valley when I was a child. Here, I found natural chalk, bits of old pottery, and lots of broken glass along the shore.

I walked to St. Paul's. Looks like a Christo, in common with many European buildings. I went inside and hung out in the vestibule, sinceI really didn't want to pay 9 pounds to look at yet another old building when most of them are free. There's a sign asking visitors to respect the church...and they're charging admission????? What would Jesus do or say???

A girl bounced a red and white soccer ball along the black and white tiles. I didn't say anything but must have looked severe, because she stopped and aologized to me. Ha.

Rita Mae Brown wrote, "I pray for chance magnificence."

Once again luck attends me. The St. Paul's Tube station is closed, so I walk east toward the next one. I pass a closed sidewalk where a movie's being filmed. Not, unfortunately, Harry Potter, but something called Highway Robbery.

I continue down the block toward a small church. It's St. Mary-le-Bow, home of the famous Bow Bells. Designed by Wren, it was destroyed during WW2 and rebuilt according to his specs. It's a lovely little church, creamy walls and columns, a sky-blue barrel ceiling, with gilded rosettes and wood trim.

And the choir is rehearsing. They're magnificent.

I thought I'd go to Greenwich this afternoon, but I have no impulse to move.
When I go to the Bank tube, there's a sign to Leadenhall Market, which I remember is the site of the filming of Diagon Alley, so I walk there. It's dead, like everywhere in the City of London on weekends and at night.

I tube to Oxford Circus, an utter contrast since it's in the middle of the main shopping district of London and always crazy-crowded. I stop at the waterstone bookstore to hang out.

Altogether a really really nice day.

29 October--Sunday

Kew Gardens today--sunny and mild. A lovely day, but I find myself tired of the manicured perfection of London's parks and gardens. I long for the wild places ofthe earth.

30 Oct--Monday

Worked a bit doing promo in the morning, then headed for Greenwich. Even before I get there I'm tired from all the walking I've been doing, since I decided to walk through the City along the way just to see if it was anymore lively on a weekday. There were a few more people on the streets, but Leadenhall was still dead...odd...a place like that in Caalifornia would be busy no matter what the hour or the day. Heck, it's a shopping mall, right???

Train trip from Bank to Maritime Greenwich followed by fish and chips. The trip uneventful but interesting. Lots of Thames, wharf, canal action.

I'm not blown away by Greenwich. I've discovered that despite my love of the Regency era I don't care for the neoClassic architecture of the day, which was the norm for England for a couple of centuries, includng the era during which most of Greenwich's large public buildings were designed.

I'm writing this in the Planetarium sky show and it's really disappointing. I was expecting something terrific like the shows you can see at Griffith Park in La, but instead it's really cheesy and corny. I don't learn's oriented to children--stupid uninformed children, which annoys me since right now most kids are in school and the vast majority of people in the show are doubt they feel they're being talked down to as much as I do. These folks need to put on separate shows for kids.

Sooooo...I did Greenwich. Nice town, good fish and chips but the sights, while interesting, left me unmoved. A lot of the sights were closed, including the most interesting parts of the Royal Observatory. Great views of London, though, and a peek into an estate agent's window revealed that bGreenwich is almost affordable.