diumenge, d’agost 28, 2005

Since you left, I've had no moonlight (inspired by Chavela Vargas' "Luz de Luna" (English / Spanish)

Pues desde que te fuiste
Yo no he tenido
Luz de luna...

your soft lips
your sweet lies
how you learned to use them well
so young
that's what caught me off guard

your long embraces
your languid sighs
each brush of your finger tips
they still brew, boil and bruise
beneath the gentle surface of my worldly countenance

a little more time
I would have loved you
a little more time
the tissue of lies you wrapped around me
might have completed their metamorphasis

I would have been yours
at the whims of your purile mercy
the sickness you left in my heart came on quickly
somehow I healed myself before infection set in
went sceptic and consumed me

still on nights I dreamt
of your moonlight
how the chains of your condecension
brought small gifts of light
to my cold, dark forest

obviously this evil is pervasive
even the very young are vile
no matter though, poppet
it's true you abandoned me
sampled my wares and then kicked me in the teeth

one thing you can never change
like all the liars, beggars, cheats and vagabonds before you
who feigned interest, kindness and tenderness
in exchange for orgasms:
I had you

in my arms, in my mouth, in my bed
our scents and essences comingled
conspired and covered our bodies in lust and sweat
Deny me for a thousand years hence and longer still
It will always be true

I had you once upon a time

divendres, d’agost 26, 2005

Un noson olaf o leuad (Welsh)

Heno mi es i allan i weld yr hogia. Pam? Penwythnos diwethaf cyn mynd yn ôl i'r frwydr ydyw, pan fydd yn rhaid imi fynd allan yn unig dros y Sul a byth yn ystod yr wythnos - nid 'mod i'n mynd allan yn ystod yr wythnos yn aml ychwaith. Mae'n blino, mae'n farw yn ystod yr wythnos. Hyd yn oed yn ein cymuned ni mae'r hogia yn arfer gweithio trwy'r wythnos, dim ond y rhai ddiog neu'r rhai fel fi sy'n gweithion yn yr addysg sy'n crwydro'r bars yn ystod yr wythnos. A fi, dwi ddim yn eu mynychu'n rhy aml ychwaith. Does dim lle yn y byd mor ddigalonu na ryw hen far ar noswaith Fawrth, a hon yw'r gwir yn onest.

Ond pam rwyf yn mynd allan o gwbl, 'na'r cwestiwn mwyaf. Rwyf yn dod o fyd arall. hen fyd lle mae ffordd i drin popl trwy'r amser - ffyrdd i 'neud iddyn nhw deimlo'n hapus i fod yno. Dyna hen dalent ar goll dyddiau hyn. Mae'r bars mor sglyfaeth, a fi heb yr asgwrn i fod mor hyll a'r lleill.

Roedd cyfaill yn sôn wrthyf yr oedd o am fynd allan heno, ond wrth gwrs, wnaeth o ddim. Mor anodd ydyw i gadw addawiad, ond ydy? Fi, mi es i efo poen yn fy stumog ar ôl cinio, gormod o stres ydyw neu fi sy'n mynd yn hen. Ta waith, mi es i, a mi ganais i: Luz de Luna ( tôn gam, diolch Shawn), La vie en rose (yn Saesneg, diolch unwaith eto Shawn), a Crazy, yr unig gan oedd yn weddol wedi'r cwbl.

Ac mae'r lle yn dwll hefyd! Roedd yr hen lanc tu ôl i'r cownter yn cynnig y gin cyntaf imi am $6. Wedyn gofynnodd wrthyf petaswn yn gyfaill i Shawn, y boi oedd yn rhedeg y periant Carioci. Yndw, wedes i (rwyf yn siarad ag o yn aml ar lein). 'Lly rôl 'ny, roedd yn siarsio $7! Yr hen sglyfaeth! Ac yn cymryd ennyd hir i gynnig diod aral hyd at hyn!

A does dim gen i'r atyniadu sydd yn eu gwylltio yn y bar 'chwaith. Ac a dweud y gwir yn onest dwi ddim yn edrych am ffyc brys. Rwyf yn gwybod na fyddaf yn canfod serch fy mynwes mewn lle mor ddu a hyll â hyn. Ta waith, rwyf yn mynychu'r llefydd er i fod yn rhan o'r gymuned, i gael fy ngweld ynghylch fy llwyth.

Fy llwyth.

Pa felltith

Fel fy nheulu, rhywbeth i guddio dan glo - dim eu derbyniadiaeth gymdeithasol ychwaith, ond eu gwirionedd - eu gwacter, eu duwch, eu hangen ddofn am rywbteh mwy a'r amhosiblrwydd o'i chael.

Ac efo nhw, fy ngwacter, fy nuwch, f'angen i...

Ta waith, rwyf yn ôl yn y nyth rŵan, yn fy nhŷ, lle mae'r hen atgofion, yr hen bethau cyforddus sydd yn f'atgofio i'r hen bobl a fu a roeddwn yn eu caru, ac oedd yn fy ngharu fi yn ey ffasiwn, yn llenwi'r lle. Mae'r nyth yn lle llawen ar ôl yr holl wacter a'r holl dduwch tu allan...

dimecres, d’agost 24, 2005

News Bulletin: What's Been Happening Since the End of the Rainbow Tour, or Wasting Away in Mediocreville (English / Cornnish / Welsh / Spanish)

Coming home from a trip overseas is hard. No matter how long I've travelled, no matter how tired I've gotten, no matter how much I wanted to be in my own little nest somewhere halfway along the trip, once the trip begins drawing to a close I begin to feel like I'm coming to the end of a really good book, and I just don't want to turn the last page. I had lots of trepidation at the onset of this trip. I was trying to close on an investment property, terrorists were bombing London, my travel hub, den yowynk noweth o yn ow bewnans ha kysyor ha caryor pur da o ve, and my good friend Bill was still not out of the hospital. I had more reasons to stay at home than take this trip, but at the very last minute, struggling with myself in the airpport, I steeled myself against anxiety and climbed aboard. The first couple weeks were frought with more anxiety, but they were well worth it in the end. As the end of the trip approached, I was, as always sad to be leaving.

After the return, like every time, I had to readjust to life in Mediocreville. Schenectady is not the Llŷn, isn't Rennes, isn't Hamburg, and the reality was that when I came back, I would be thrown back into the old swing of things, and that includes all the little troubles haunting the edge of my otherwise long quiet river.

Whenever I first return, there is always this disorientation; it was slight this time, but nonetheless present with aspect ranging from the real to the psychological, for example getting used to driving on the right again and to not hearing Welsh everyday. Since I've been back I've also been spending a lot of time on the phone, trying to close on this second house, finding that I'm beset with the results of other peoples' incompetence and ignorance, and it's costing me time and money, and with the onset of the semester time is more precious than money right now.

Ha wosa dos tre ple yma an caryor? Ia, ev o omma, ow cara avel just rak seythun mes lemmyn yma ev yn le aral, ow kewsel dhymm war'n pellgowser mebyl py war'n jynn-amontya, mes nyns yu omma gensi ple my a vyn ev. Ta waith mae mwy nag un pysg yn y mor...

I've been catching up with old friends ha hep an caryor noweth caryoryon koth dhe gonfortya ow colonn trist and readjusting to a life quite a bit less thrilling than my travel life. I'm sure after the annoying little vicissitudes of the coming weeks are hammered out, when I have tenants in the new house and I've sung Luz de luna enough times dhe ankevy an den yowynk noweth, as well as burbled enough bourbon through a sufficient number of coktail parties and minor social gatherings, I will be able to find the rose moments a little more easily. Now, it's back to reality and back to the day to day battled to get the universe to comply with my wishes; I want to keep the course of my river flowing smoothly...

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 25 - Sunday 7.26.05

After my first day at the Eisteddfod, I decided to take a quieter day. I got up an slowly acclimated to the day with breakfast and tea. Mary had guests in the caravan, and we would all be having Sunday dinner together. The guests, Collin and Joan were from England and were staying with Mary in her caravan off and on over the summer while they were selling their house and looking for another. Olwen's son-in-law Richard had the day before butchered a lamb, and so we would be having farm fresh lamb for our main course. After lunch was done, Mary and Olwen went off to Sir Fôn, and I went off to the Eisteddfod for a couple hours.

I was also going on a mission.

Earlier in the day I had been in contact with my old friend Kelvin who now lives in the U.S., but comes home to Wales in the summer to see his family. He was really keen on going to the Bryn Fon concert on Monday night. I told him that I would go and buy tickets if any were left. Everyone was talking about the Bryn Fon concert, and I was a little worried thatit would be sold out. The concert was to be held in the main Pafiliwn which holds 3,500 people, but that's a fairly small number for the "Welsh father of Rock and Roll."

As luck would have it there were a few, just a few, tickets left. I bought two, one for each of us even though they weren't together. I wandered the Maes for a little bit investigating some of the stands I had seen yet, and then went to the Cyngor y Llyfrau and bought three books: Rebuilding the Celtic Languages; The Incredible Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth; Last Tango in Aberystwyth. If you're wondering why I didn't buy any in Welsh it's because I had recently bought a huge box of Welsh language books from ebay which will keep me in Welsh language reading material for some time to come. Nonetheless, a couple of Mihangel Morgan's titles did catch my eye, but I had to be reasonable. I had already bought a suitcase to carry home what I had bought so far.

After the Eisteddfod I wandered down to the Bengali place in Garn for some Cobra and chicken Pathia before returning to Tai'n Lôn for the night.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 24 - Saturday 7.30.05

The first day of the Eisteddfod!

Sometimes when it rains in Wales, you just have to make the best of it. Today it was raining, and when it wasn't raining, the water still lay about the Eisteddfod field in minor great lakes and muddy quagmires of impressive volume. The pants that I wore today have been christened Eisteddfod pants, and until the Maes (the field) dries up, I'm not wearing another pair of pants!

The rain did dampen my enthusiam though. I got to the Maes and got a decent parking spot and made my way to the Pabell y Dysgwyr, the Learners Tent where I had some free coffee and a very interesting conversation with a young Welsh language hip hop artist named Craig Jones from Yr Wyddgrug. You never really know who you will meet when you go to the Eisteddfod. Then I hopped between raindrops and navigated the recently formed bayous and backwaters of the Maes to see what and whom I could see. Among my stops was the Cymdeithas Cymru-Llydaw, the Wales Brittany Society where I got to try out some of my rudimentary Breton. I also went to the Cyngor y Llyfrau, the Books Council and inspected some books I planned on buying in the fullness of time.

A little after 1, I was starting to get hungry, and wandered over to the far side of the Maes where I found Arturo Roberts, publisher of NINNAU, the North American Welsh paper, and the Cymdeithas Cymru-Ariannin, the Wales-Argentina Society. A little known fact to most people outside of Wales is that in the 1860's, a group of Welsh emmigrants left for Patagonia in what today is southern Argentina. They had it in mind to form their own Welsh Republic, but eventually succumbed to the will of the central government in Buenos Aires. I stopped and chatted with the Cymru-Ariannin folks, and then with Olga and Arturo. Both Olga and Arturo, who now live in the United States, come from Patagonia and Welsh colony, known in Welsh simply as y Wladfa, the Colony. After chatting with them I investigated one or two more booths before wandering over to the nearest food tent.

I grabbed a Guiness and a lamb burger and saw Arturo and Olga also having their lunch and asked if I could join them. Arturo and I continued with our conversation from earlier, as we usually do, half in Welsh, half in Spanish. With the coming of the afternoon, I returned to the Pabell y Dysgwyr and watched Never Mind the Bocs perform, a group who does more or less traditional folk music. Once their concert was finished, I got them to pose for a picture and then picked my way through the recently formed Everglades back to my car.

Incidentally, this years Eisteddfod was held on the Faynol, or Vaenol estate that lies on the road between Caernarfon and Bangor, just north of the small village of Felinheli, and behind a seven mile long wall. The front of its land faces the Menai Strait and the imposing Plas Newydd Estate on Ynys Môn across the water. The estate is now basically an office complex and concert venue, but throughoput most of the 20th century it was at the heart of many local mysteries and rumors, not the least of which being that the lady of the house was indeed a lesbian. For allt he fuss that people made about the place though, in reality, as far as estates go, it was no Plas Newydd, and was only a little classier than JR's fictional Southfork. The grounds themselves are vast and pleasant, but the house is, for a manor house, rather a let down: fairly small and quite plane.

All its pretense and historical riches aside, it was still liable to the rain, and the path back to the car was muddier by far than the trek in had been. I journeyed back down to Tai'n Lôn and ane evening of hot tea and a coal fire to dry out.

dijous, d’agost 18, 2005

We Interrupt This Travel Log for an Emotional, Angst Ridden Outburst (French / Spanish / Cornish / Occitan)

Mais qu'est-ce qui me passe, qu'est-ce qui me prend comme ça? Ce n'est pas vrai que je sais mieux? Ce n'est pas vrai que la fin prévue de cette entreprise est mauvaise? Combien de fois est-ce que je peux finir mal avant de me cristaliser et puis me briser? Mon coeur, mon pauvre coeur pauvre, si longuement privé des eaux de vrai amour, maintenant les petites maudites sémilles de ma propre destruction commencent à se pousser comme des pissenlits! Et après, et après, qu'est-ce qui va me rester? Un champs jaunâtre et blanc en pourrissant après un été trop lascif? De souvenirs trop doux qui se mêlent à statut dégueulasse avec des crises d'angoisse et de soliltude?

Piaf a bien demandé, à quoi ça sert l'amour? Sa réponse, toujours la même, l'amour fait pleurer, l'amour fait souffrir, l'amour te laisse un goût de miel, l'amour c'est éternel!

Une punition éternelle alors, ou bien qui va rester longtemps bien que ça soit relativement jeune dans les sociétés humaines, en tant que nous l'envisageons. L'amour pèse, l'amour entre comme un feu et ne laisse que la désolation...

C'est une putain bien douée et bien manipulatrice - le pire des vampires, un revenant sans forme, sans matière qui existe partout mais ce qui est impossible à voir!

Mes ple 'ma ow caryor? Nyns omma? Mes yma ev omma yn ow golon, hag ev a wra kewsel dhymm war'n pellgowser. Ev vydh dos haneth a-nos? Je ne sais pas même... mais l'espoir me hante quand même, aussi bien que l'amour même.

Si, l'enfer existe. On le trouve facilement lorsqu'on commence à rêver, à désirer, à dépendre d'un autre être humain aussi faible que toi mais avec un coeur de fer qui ne bat que très infréquemment ou bien se trouve perturbé par une vie de peur si profond que même la pitié pour une âme une fois aimée, un corps une fois baisé, ne peut jamais achever son centre...

Ce soir j'entends les notes de ma camarade, Chavela Vargas, ce qui me donnent un peu de consolation, mais aucune solaz:

Yo quiero luz de luna
Para mi noche triste
Para soñar divina
La ilusión que me trajiste
Para sentirte mía,
mía tú
Como ninguna

Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna
Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna

Si ya no vuelves nunca
Provincianita mía
A mi senda querida
Que está triste y está fría
En vez de en mi almohada
Lloraré sobre mi tumba

Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna
Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna

Yo siento tus amarras
Como garfios,
como garras
Que me ahogan en la playa
De la farra y el dolor
Y siento tus cadenas a rastras
En mi noche callada
Que sea plenilunada
Y azul como ninguna

Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna
Pues desde que te fuiste
No he tenido luz de luna.

dimecres, d’agost 17, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Days 21-23 - Wednesday 7.27.05 - Friday 7.29.05

Day 21 - Wednesday 7.27.05

Today was a wet again, so I decided to head to town to do my normal in town things. I parked along the Menai and walked into town, stopping at a newer restaurant with healthy food; it's called Rhika's, and I enjoyed a chicken tandori wrap, very tastey. Then I went up to Dylan Thomas for Coffi Dwyfor and email, then finally back to Galeri on Doc Fictoria, having already planned to see the new Star Wars movie considering the weather forecast was for rain. The film was fine, nothing more or less than what I expected. I probably never would have gotten around to watching it at home, but day 21 with clouds and rain in Wales seemed like a good place and time toe watch it. After the movie, which ended fairly late in the afternoon, I went back to Tai'n Lôn for supper with Mary and Olwen.

Day 22 & Day 23 - Thursday 7.28.05 & Friday 7.29.05

Ych a fi, dyddiau gwlyb eraill! The weather forecast in both Welsh and English promised a rainy spell that would last for days, even into the beginning of the Eisteddfod on Saturday. I decided that since I would be busy at the Eisteddfod, I would use the next two days to get my shopping done. You might not think that I would have much shopping to do, but that couldn't be futher from the truth. On thursday I did the majority of the booze shopping in Caernarfon, at the Tescos, both for myself and for others. I also spent time looking around for another suitcase, so I would be able to get everything home. The suitcase shopping in Caernarfon was fruitless, but I did manage to get three bottles of Brecon Gin and one bottle of Penderyn Aur. The Penderyn is for my personal consumption, but the gins were all gifts for friends at home. We who live in Upstate New York know how to enjoy our spirits, and have learned to appreciate them even more during the seven month long winters. Thursday evening I dined at the Bengali restaurant in Llandwnda and had something new, a chicken dish supposedly from Iran according the menu - it was moderately spicey with a smokey flavor, but quite tasty.

On Friday I journeyed over to Sir Fôn to go to the Pringle's store in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch. First of all the Pringle's Store sells everything except Pringle potato chips, and second of all, yes, that's the name of the town, considered by many, especially those with a tourism business in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch, to be the longest place name in the world. Since Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch is obviously too long of the bureaucracies of the UK to fiddle with, the town is officially known only as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll on maps and road signs. To everyone who knows and loves it, however, it's still Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch. And, no, I won't tell you what it means, but feel free to cut and paste it into google and have a gogogoch (that was corny, I know), if ur so inclined! One of the great ironies of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch is that one of its nearby neighbors is called simply, Star.

Anyway, in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch, I was able to buy my extra suitcase and the gifts to fill it, including a couple bottles of Toffoc (Toffee flavored Vodka, much nicer than it sounds), some Mynydd Du - black currant liqueur, and some assorted teas and jams for the less alcoholically inclined among my friends! When I left Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysyliogogogoch, the rain was coming down like mad, so i returned to Tai'n Lôn and called it a day!

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 20 - Tuesday 7.26.05

One of the things I have yet to do in all my trips to the northwest corner of Wales is get to the top of Snowdon. A couple years ago I went to Pen-y-Pas and parked my car and began, protein bars and water, along with camera and cellphone (Welsh wilderness is great this way, cellphones works almost everywhere!) stuffed my my backpack. I walked along the trail taking snaps of little lakes is small glaciel cymoedd and began picking my way along the trail. Eventually tho I gave up. I had been excercising regulary for about 6 months at the time, but my "keep fit" routine was part of a comeback from passing a gallstone and a brush with death induced by a misprescribed medication. I wasn't yet strong enough to make the walk.

Since then I've been too busy with other activities to take on the mountain on foot, but this year I decided I would try to take the train, never mind walking, I was on vacation after all, and figured I would save the 20 miles bikes rides and minor mountain climbing for home. As I mentioned, on Monday I had tried to catch the train, but the tickets were all booked until very late in the day. I figured that if I arrived earlier in the day I might be able to catch an earlier train. I arrived in Llanberis around 10AM, parked my Corsa and trotted off past the Electric Mountain center and was shocked to see that the line for the train ended well past the souvenir shop. I enquired to the lady waiting in front of me if the line had been moving steadily, and she reported that her friend had ventured to the head of the line to see what the reservations were like. When he finally returned (he probably had to stop to water his horse along the way...) he revealed that the trains were already book to 4:30! I gave up and headed back to Caernarfon.

I stopped at Galeri and enjoyed a nice Coffi Dwyfor while observing the boats and people along Doc Fictoria. Then I decided it was time for lunch, and so I walked into the walled part of Caernarfon town. Just past the wall was a nice looking pub, the Hole in the Wall, where I stopped and had a Welsh beef burger, sglods (chips), and a couple pints of Guinness (it's a well known fact that dark beers counteract the bad fats in red meats ;) ). That afternoon was going to be the first official day of the Gwyl Caernarfon - the Caernarfon Festival, and a number of bands from the record label Sain were supposed to be playing in the town square, y Maes. After lunch I wander up to the Maes, but no bands appeared! I was disappointed, but I was already well acquainted with the Guadalajara aspect fof the Welsh collective psyche.

The day was warm and the sun was shining, so I got in my car and decided to drive down the Llŷn peninsula and see what I could find. The Llŷn is in some ways among the wildest parts of Wales, and also among the most Welsh speaking. The weather really was great, and soon I found myself tracking down medieval curiosities nestled in the coves and glens along the western side of the peninsula. After investigating a couple medieval churches, and stopped and followed a path down to one of the many small and semi-isolated beaches that punctuate the Llŷn. After my short hike, I head back to the car and picked my way up along the side of the peninsula that faces Cardigan Bay, and then back to Tai'n Lôn for supper with Mary and Olwen.

dimarts, d’agost 16, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 19 - Monday 7.25.05

The weather improved from last night. I got up and had breakfast with Mary after a midnight battle with the vindaloo. I went off to Caernarfon and stopped in at Dylan Thomas for a great cup of Dwyfor coffee, email, and some chile for lunch - like I said, people make very good chile in Wales. I go to Dylan Thomas every summer, and the owner, probably a couple years younger than I, remembers me from year to year, as do his mother and father who work there as well.

After lunch I headed over to Llanberis to enquire about a trip up Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), but when I got there I found out the the next train with seats available wasn't leaving for another two and half hours. Llanberis is a nice enough town, but not interesting enough to spend so much time waiting around. I decided to journey across the back ridge of Yr Wyddfa over Pen-y-Pas and then down along the souther end of the mountain.

The weather was moderately sullen by the time I crossed through Pen-y-Pas, but still clear enough to afford pleasant vistas along the western and southern expanses of Eryri; the Welsh mountains have all the green of Ireland and all the ruggedness of Scotland, a perfect combination. So many beautiful photographs have been taken of the Welsh countryside, especially Snowdonia, but the reality is that no photograph can ever capture what the human eye can, no lense is wide enough to capture the full breadth of the elegance of these ancient glacier worn mountains, that even after the last ice age still reach thousands of feet into the sky where they kiss the low lying cloud that accompanies the Gulf Stream.

On my way along the road to Rhyd Ddu, I passed by a sign for a copperworks and decided to stop and investigate. The name of the works is Sygun, and not only is it a copperworks, but a mine complex as well. I decided to take the self-guided tour of the mine, so I donned my hard hat and shouldered by backpack and down I went. I've been in mines before, but this one felt especially cold and damp. In places the water was fairly deep, and boots would have been useful. Nonetheless I trudged on passing frightened Irish tourists afraid that they would slip and fall on the wet rocks. At times the ceiling was quite low, and rarely was it high enough to allow me to stand fully erect. I picked my way along the tunnels, stopping and listening to the recordings that described the various aspects of the mine and its operations. I decided that I would brave the entire length of the mine tour. Starting at the bottom of the mine, I clambered up 550 vertical feet of wet tunnel and steps covered in copper oxide, finally arrving at the top to be greeted by beautiful vistas of the souther Snowdonia range. The views alone were worth the climb and the battle for my breath against the thick metallic air of the tunnels.

After Sygun it was back "home" to Tai'n Lôn and supper with Mary and Olwen.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 18 - Sunday 7.24.05

Dydd y glaw - rainy day...

On what would prove to be the first of several soaking wet days in Wales I mostly stuck around the house and read and watched TV. When it rains in Wales, and I don't just mean the little drizzle that can come at almost any moment, piddling down out of some errant cloud escaped from the Gulf Stream, but when it rains in Wales, it's not pleasant. The rain tends to blow in in sheets, few people bother with umbrellas because the wind has a way of coming in sideways as well. Your best defense, if you have to be outside is a pair of wellies (rubber boots, known otherwise as Wellingtons) and plastic rain poncho (gone are the days of the ubiquitous plastic "mac", which didn't include a hood). If you don't have to be outside, do something nice like read and drink tea. I had thought of going to see a film that was playing at the new artspace in Caernarfon, Galeri. I decided that I would venture out in the afternoon just the same. On Sundays, Mary and Olwen go to visit Olwen's daughter and son-in-law on their farm, Tyddyn Gwynt, but I long ago gave up on accompanying them. The folks at Tyddyn Gwynt are kind, but a whole day there is a bit much, even a rainy miserable one like today.

Once I arrived in town, I thought about stopping at Dylan Thomas, the cybercafé, but it's closed on Sundays, so I went on to Galeri, housesd in a new postmodern building along Doc Fictoria on the Menai Straits. I asked about the movie, but it didn't seem all that appealing. Nonetheless I wandered around Galeri and into a gallery, hehe, with a WWII display about the "facwîs" - evacuees from England. As luck would have it, they were actually giving away copies of the book 100 o Arwyr Cymru - 100 Welsh Heroes, so my trip to Galeri was worth it for a free copy of the book alone. After Galeri I went back to Tai'n Lôn and got ready for dinner, not with Mary and Olwen because they wouldn't be back yet from Sir Fôn, the rather large island northwest of Caernarfon where Tyddyn Gwynt lies, but to Madiba, the Bengali restaurant in Garndolbenmaen.

If it seems moderately ludicrous that a place called Garndolbenmaen would have a Bengali restaurant at all, never mind a very good one, you're not alone in your thinking. Garn, what the locals call it for short, is pleasant enough hole in the wall, but hardly the place for the best chicken vindaloo you can imagine. Nonetheless, along a windswept stretch of the A487 between the village limits of Bryncir, Dolbenmaen and Garndoldenmaen lies Madiba, in an old Little Chef, now elegantly remodeled and serving the best curries west of Dhaka, well at least as far as I'm concerned. The Bengali staff doesn't speak Welsh, but they're friendly and the chicken vindaloo I had was just what the doctor ordered on a cold, rainy Welsh evening. It was so suculent and spicey, I could feel it work its way all through my body. The waiter looked at me in shock and respect for ordering, my being a pastey white boy. I extolled the virtues of their vindaloo to them even as the sweat was beading on my brow, telling them how we couldn't get such good vindaloo in America, and we can't. The Indian beer, Cobra, was an excellent foil to the main course, and went well with my vegetable samosa I had to start out.

After dinner it was back to Tai'n Lôn and a quite rumble as the vindaloo worked its way through, releasing endorphins the whole while. A sublime meal and a path to at least temporary contentment. With the chemicals the vindaloo released in my body coursing through my veins, I wasn't worried about the second investment property I was trying to buy, or all the silly hogia hoyw, my bittersweet companions in lust and ersatz love. Nothing annoying, not a single pertubation of chemical vindaloo induced bliss could get through!

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 17 - Saturday 7.23.05

I was up relatively early and had breakfast with Mary. Inspite of the weatherforecast, the day seemed to be trying to clear up, and eventually it did. After breakfast, I had my obligatory half gallon of tea, te coch dail, I take my tea plain, no cream, no sugar, red - te coch and Mary still makes tea the old fashioned way, with real loose leaves. When you're done with your paned you can read the tea leaves if you're so inclined and have the requisite knowledge. Then I was on the road, bouncing along the one lane road from Tai'n Lôn to Pant Glas, birth place of Bryn Terfel, turning south toward Porthmadog and eventually to Machynlleth.

As the morning wore on, the weather improved and the vistas while driving were marvelous. Eventhough it's a main road, the A487 from Caernarfon to Machynlleth curves and winds its ways through the edge of the Welsh mountain country of high peaks, Snowdonia in English, Eryri, or Eagles' Heights in Welsh. You pass through places like Dolgellau near Cadair Idris and Trawsfynydd, past the Tal y Llyn Valley and eventually down almost to sea level at Machynlleth.

Besides having a name which few people outside of Wales can ever pronounce correctly, Machynlleth is home to the first parlement of Wales, led by Owain Glyndŵr during the Welsh revolution of 1401. This distinction the Machynllethiaid proudly proclaim as when you enter the small town the sign declares: Croeso i Machynlleth, prifddinas hynaf Cymru, Welcome to Machynlleth, Wales' oldest capital. You can actually visit the small slate building where the early parlement meant, but it wasn't the medieval history of Wales that brought me here today. I wanted to visit Celtica, a multimedia exhibition on the edge of town that deals with the history of the Celts from the ancient to the modern era; of course being in Wales' oldest capital, the focus is on Welsh Celticity.

When I arrived at the carpark for Celtica, I was surprised by the number of cars, and soon learned that on the grounds of Celtica that a Hispanic festival was also going on, called El sueño existente. I enquired at the ticket booth about the start time for the next tour through the multimedia area, and they told me I had about 40 minutes to wait. I used the time to stroll through the grounds and observe the various organizations that had set up booths and tents.

There is a romanticism that runs rampant throughout most of Welsh culture, Anglo and Welsh speaking, but it's not the cloying kind of guthy romanticism that most Americans think of. Rather it's a deep seeded respect for colorful characters, who ooze culture, creativity, artistic talents. Such people are often held in overly high esteem by many in Welsh cultural circles, and the plight of Latin America with its developing countries and economic bouleversements, its swarthy cantantes and tangos appeals to the Welsh psyche. Even though Machynlleth is far from everywhere (no doubt Glyndŵr chose it for his capital as it would be hard for the English to get to), hundreds of people were milling around the tents and booths eventhough the main entertainment wouldn't take place for hours.

Eventually it was time to go in and experience Celtica. Secretly I was hoping that they had updated since my last visit, more than ten years before. Unfortunately they didn't, but it was still entertaining, and eventhough some of the technology was showing the passage of time, it was still worth a second visit. Besides me on the tour were an older English couple, and English man and a family that were apparently his French relatives. Each person who goes on the multimedia tour is given a headset and can listen to the narratives along the way in English, French, German or Welsh. I was the only choosing Welsh this day, but the number of people choosing English were also in a minority!

At the very end of the tour is a room which addresses modern Celticity, and uses Dafydd Iwan's now famous anthem, "Yma o hyd" still here. Ten years ago when we got to this room I could barely hold back the tears, and today was no exception. The reality that Welsh culture has survived all these centuries, that it is still here, is overwhelming; it's joyful miracle. That Welsh culture is today stronger than it has been in centuries is also amazing, well worth a tear.

After the tour I wandered over to the caffi and had chile and jacket potato, believe it or not, the Welsh make very good chile. After my late lunch it was back north. The sun had come the rest of the way out and the trip home was even more beautiful than the way down had been.

It was almost evening by the time I reached Tai'n Lôn, but there was enough time to do a laundry and hang it out to capture the ocean breeze before it got too dark and too damp.

dijous, d’agost 11, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 16 - Friday 7.22.05

I was up early, far too early no matter what had gone on the night before, but the amount of alkie made it all the worse. 4:30 AM and my cell went off; I had to be at airport by 5:30. Dörthe got up to and made herself alert enough to shuttle me across the city to catch my plane. I did, and made the flight to Brussels without difficulty aside from being way too tired. The flight was short though, and so was the wait between flights. In little more than an hour I was on the Brussels Air flight to Manchester.

Once in Manchester I picked up my rental car, a little silver Vauxhall Corsa Life, but this time without the automatic and AC. I left Manchester airport around 10ish, and headed west along the M56 to where it eventually joins the A55 and the pretty sign that reads "Croeso i Gymru", Welcome to Wales. To Wales, and to "home."

Shortly after crossing the border the mountains rose up to my left into the cloud cover and sea roiled to my right. The A55 hugs this coastline of North Wales where the majority language is still Welsh and where the mountains and the sea collide. Shortly after leaving Manchester I had stopped in Chester, still in England and grabbed a Whimpyburger for lunch and made a needful pit stop. Now that I was in Wales, I could travel non-stop to the Caernarfon exit and turn south toward the beginning of the Llŷn Peninsula where I would stay for the next 17 days.

I got off the dual carriageway at Caernarfon and turned eventually on the A487 toward Porthmadog. I went through the ancient town of Caernarfon and the massive Edwardian castle where the Prince of Wales is invested, and south to the roundabout for Llanllyfni where I turned off and went through the small village. To drive in Wales, or anywhere in the UK is not just a question of getting used to doing things on the opposite side of the road, but it is also a question of adapting to size and space differences. In most Welsh towns, and cities for that matter, on any give street, unless it's a very big and well travelled street, you can expect no more than one lane of driveable space, and such is the case with Llanllyfni. I navigated the main road through the town with no resistance in traffic. Sometimes the cars were parked along my side of the road, other times I had a clear right of way, but from Llanllyfni to Tai'n Lôn you have to take a B road, which are often just one lane wide to begin with, and in the Welsh countryside, often lined with the improperly named "hedgerows," hedges which often conceal very hard stone walls. Such is the road to Tai'n Lôn where Mary Jones and Olwen Thomas, two sisters, make their homes on opposing ends of the Aber Rheon council estate.

Tai'n Lôn is a funny place really, not really a proper village, it's more of a dot on the map in a ninlle, a nowhere, between two bigger villages, Clynnog Fawr and Pant Glas, the latter of which produced the now world-famous opera singer Bryn Terfel. Tai'n Lôn is small, with little more than a dozen houses, and no businesses at all except the British Telecom red phone booth in front of Aber Rheon. The name of the place literally means 'houses in a lane,' and that's exactly what is, a string of houses in a lane running along a small hollow, or pant in Welsh. On the hillsides above the hamlet you can always see sheep and cows, and behind Aber Rheon, across the Rheon creek rises the bulk of the majestic Bwlch Derwin, a minor mountain the peak of which is often obscured in mist.

I arrived around 1PM in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day visiting with Mary and Olwen before heading to bed. It was good to be back in Wales, and to hear a Celtic language not quite so endangered as the last one I had left behind.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 15 - Thursday 7.21.05

My last day in Germany....

I was too tired from the day before to get up and have breakfast with Dörthe, so I got up and told her I was crawling back into bed - her sofa bed was really comfortable by the way, says something for German engineering! I didn't get up till 9:30, and when I did, the rain was blowing in sideways, and I decided to hang out at her place reading and watching television.

After she came home, she made a great spaghetti and salad, and we finished the gin and two bottles of wine, and the evening just talking shit as people are apt to do when drunk. The next day would begin all too early for both of us...

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 14 - Wednesday 7.20.05

Lübeck bound...

I was up with the cocks' crow, so to speak, and had breakfast with Dörthe. Then I collected my needful things in my rucksack (may as well call it that since I'm in Germany...) and went down to the Photo Dose to get my last set of photographs. I then hopped on the U-bahn (U2 line) and rode down to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and bought Täglichkart (day-long ticket) for the whole HVV transit system. This card would allow me to ride all the Hamburg metro area transport for the day, including the round-trip to Lübeck and the subway.

One note about the subway in Hamburg, the U-bahn, or Unter-Bahn. It's a very easy and efficient way to get around the city; it seems like there is a stop within two blocks of nearly everything, and like the metro in Rennes, it operates partially on the honor system. Once you buy your ticket you're on the honor system. There are no regular conductors or machines to verify that you have a ticket. Periodically however, transit authority personnel will set up flash inspections for tickets, and if you don't have a valid one, you will be fined. Unlike the the system in Rennes, the U-bahn is not 100% automated, altho ticket purchase is. The trains still have drivers at the helm.

Some other cultural notes about today's Germany... one: let the pedestrian beware. Bicycles are major modes of transportation in the flatlands of Niedersachen and Hamburg, and most streets have a bike lane, or permit the use of cycles on the sidewalks. In the case of especially busy streets like Osterstraße the bike path is marked out specifically along the pedestrian sidewalk. That means there is about 10 feet of sidewalk for pedestrians, about three for the bikes, and a further foot or so to allow pedestrians to stand at crosswalks. That sounds wonderful in theory, but in practice the reality is the some bike riders weave in and out of the bike zone attempting to pass plodding pedallers, and their zig-zagging can bring them in all too close proximity to walkers. Moreover as a pedestrian, it is very important that when you're crossing the street, you look both ways not only for cars, but for the cyclists as well. The natural tendency for many Germans is to hug the side of the pavement nearest the shops as this way they are less likely to be clobbered by pushy bikers. A second item of note is that jaywalking and crossing against the crosswalk safety signal will soon net you a 5€ fine. The Hamburg authorities are sick and tired of people crossing the street against the light and getting smushed by automobiles and causing traffic tie-ups.

At any rate, back to my train ride. After I got my ticket I had only a short wait for the next train to Lübeck, a small city north of Hamburg, well reputed for its old 16th-17th century architecture. After my train left the station, in less than an hour I was in Lübeck. The walk from the Hauptbahnhof there to the city center was perhaps 15 minutes, and as I cross the Stadtkanal into the original city, I caught a glimpse of the old city. Lübeck is indeed a very pretty city, especially the Rathaus at the center of the shopping district, but truth be told, it's not a very interesting place. After about an hour strolling the streets I decided that now I had seen Lübeck, there was no point in ever coming back. It's pretty, it's quaint (and it has a very scarey marionette museum, ewww), but as the Germans would say, langweilig, boring. Just as I decided that Lübeck was a bit of a snore, the skies opened up again, and even armed with an umbrella I got soaked from the mid-drift down. On my way up to the city center earlier, I had noticed a nice, clean, well-lighted restaurant called Luzifer where I ordered a very tastey salad and spaghetti bolognaise washed down with another Warsteiner. After lunch I strolled around the old city some more, and then headed back down the hill, across the Stadtkanal and to the Hauptbahnhof to catch the 2PM train to Hamburg.

During the train ride, both hin und zurük, I was, as usual now, accompamied by Jean-Marc and Mathieu. Reading the novel was emotionally difficult for me. So far from home and the reality of the life I had left albeit temporarily behind, and always with too much down time going from place to place allowing me to think too much. Il n'est pas facile après tout à s'identifier avec des personnages fictifs, mais c'est ça, je me sens un peu comme Jean-Marc en attendant son Mathieu. Est-ce Nick, le jeune homme dont j'ai fait la connaissance la semaine avant mon départ, ou bien est-ce que j'attends Godot en fait?

I arrived back at Hartwig-Hesse-Str. at around 3:30, just enough time to change out of my damp clothes, check my email and then head back down on the U-bahn to meet Dörthe near the Jungfriedsteig station along the Alster. I had a difficult time choosing which exit from the station I should take, knowing that one, and only one of the many at this main transfer station came out at the very doorstep to Dörthe's office. I didn't choose correctly and I circled the general area hoping to encounter her office building but to no avail. Luckily I had my international cellphone and she rang me up wondering where I had gotten to. We agreed to meet in front of the Rathaus, the city hall, in a few minutes.

As I approached the city sqaure in front of the Rathaus, a truly beautiful building by the way, totallty reconstructed after the WWII (most of Hamburg was destroyed during the war), I got to see yet another very interesting German tradition. The square was set up for some kind of cultural event, with food and beer stands (the legal age to drink in Germany, by the by is 16). Whatever the main attraction would be later on that evening, the big show at the moment was a nice looking man being dressed as a girl and covered in make-up in a clownish style, not by a troupe of drag-queens (which would also not be surprising in Hamburg really), but by his friends and family, including his old grandma. They took some hay and spread it on the pavement infront of the Rathaus, and then some powder meant to look like snow. He was clearly quite drunk as he was red faced and had a hard time standing up or still. Next they put a plack around his neck which read: Hilfe, suche Jungfrau, Help, seeking a young woman. In Germany it's the tradition that on your 30th birthday, if you're an unmarried man, your friends and family will make you stand in front of the city or town hall for a dose of public humiliation. For young girls, Dörthe was telling me later in the U-bahn as we went for our supper, the tradition is to shine all the doorknobs in the village. These days, friends and family usually find and old door and fasten lots of rusty old doorknobs to it and bring the door to the birthday party. Being unmarried and over 30 herself, Dörthe did indeed suffer the shining of the doorknobs.

In a few minutes Dörthe caught me up and we rode the U-bahn to Hallerstraße where we got off and went to the Shalimar, and really great Indian restaurant. We ate our exceptionally good food and washed it down with Diebels Dark before heading back across town to Hartwig-Hesse-Str. and stopping at a bar a block from Dörthe's place called the Lichtenstein. This was a really cool place, I rarely use the word cool, but it fits here. The Lichtenstein was "our kind of place," we being youngish, professional and well-educated. Truth be told, Dörthe and I were near the upper end of age range, but there were a couple customers older than we. We enjoyed a couple pints and I was really in a good mood - the spices from the curries, the beer, the company of an old friend, and yes even the thick cigarette smoke were all enjoyable.

The night was wearing on, and Dörthe had to work in the morning, so we had to call it a night. When we got back to her place, I changed into my night clothes and put my smokey gear out on the balcony to air out. It was exciting tho to smell the nicotene breathed into the fibers of my clothes. It brought back fond memories of going out back in Binghamton, long smokey drunken and debaucherous evenings at Royal. Now that smoking in bars and restaurants is illegal in New York, I have to admit I'm quite content, but there times when nostalgia makes me forget how nice it is to be smoke-free.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 13 - Tuesday 7.19.05

The weather changed upon my arrival in Germany; even Sunday it was cloudy and threatening to rain, even producing a few small spells of drizzle. Today, the skies opened up, and it rained steadily throughout much of the day. Even so, after breakfast I wandered down to Osterstraße and picked up the first set of my photos. An error had occurred with the second set, and they wouldn't be ready till the following day. I also stopped at the Karstadt and the Super Spar and got the other ingredients I needed for the gin cosmos. I went back to D.'s apartment and dropped off my shopping, and decided that it was a good time for lunch. The Dynastie Chinese restaurant is only two blocks away from her apartment, and I decided to give it a try, as I remembered that it was good from my last visit to Hamburg. As I sat eating my chicken and brocoli and sipping my Warsteiner, the rain poured from the heavens. I was glad to be indoors eating MSG rich Chinese yum-yums. By the way, if you're wondering why I haven't eaten any German food it's because German food is especially hard to find in Hamburg!

After lunch I returned to Dörthe's apartment and was so sleepy from travelling and having so many busy days, and from the MSG and the rainy weather, that I lay on the couch and fell asleep for three hours, during which time I dreamed the most bizarre dream about two gay men who could turn themselves into cats. I was following them around, and they were on this strange mission to rescue the one man's daughter, who also had this strange transformative power. His daughter was the prisoner of this evil old English woman who lived in a big grey farmhouse in the English countryside, one of those big, blocky, gray stuccoed places. We arrived there, but not before I stopped at a Burger King and chowed down several hamburgers. Once we arrived at the evil old woman's house, one of the gay men killed her and we rescued the daughter who looked like a drugged out floosey. As the dream ended, the man who was not her father smacked her on the ass, declaring that she had beautiful ass just like her father. It really is odd what MSG can do to the brain!

Dörthe came home and made pizzas, one ham and cheese, the other vegetarian, and we drank gin cosmos which she much preferred to the gin martinis!

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 12 - Monday 7.18.05

I got up and had breakfast with D. Northern German breakfasts are a lot like Scandinavian breakfasts, altho without the prevalence of fish, especially in the cities. Every morning we had lunchmeat, cheese, good wholegrain breads, nutella, jam and fruit, as well as ample coffee. I'm not sure with D. became a coffee-holic before she left Germany to live in the States, or if living in the States made her one.

Originally she had come to the US to work as a nanny for a doctor and his family. Later on, she decided that she would stay and do a degree in Spanish, and her goal had been to find a job in the States and stay. Unfortunately things didn't work out that way, and she had to return to Germany where she did a business degree and now works for a seed trading company in Hamburg.

After Dörthe left for work, I did another laundry and then went "downtown", around the corner to Osterstraße. I had several missions to complete. I had to buy postcards and stamps, drop off my film to be developed, and finid fixin's for martinis for Dörthe and me. It was all relatively easily done. The main nexus of business is only about 20 minutes walk from Dörthe's apartment. The postoffice, cardshop, Photo Dose and Karstadt department store were all adjacent to the same intersection. After I got my cards and stamps, I dropped off my film and then went over the Karstadt.

Osterstraße's Karstadt is not a very big one, but it is big enough to have a food hall, so I hunted around for the martini glasses, then I went downstairs to the food hall to look for vodka. Much to my chagrin, their selection of vodka was pretty awful, so I opted for gin since they have Bombay Sapphire. They also had an exquisite collection of Scotch, including some very fine and reasonably priced 25 year olds. Unfortunately I wasn't in the market for Scotch.

The Karstadt didn't have any limes for whatever reason, so on my way back from Karstadt I stopped at the little Spar near Dörthe's apartment. I brought home my goods and chattels and then looked at the time. I was already late afternoon, so I took in my clothes from the clothes horse on the balcony (clothes dryers are still a rarity in much of Europe) and then went out for Chinese take-away - Germany does have very good Chinese take-away incidentally. Dörthe had a guitar lesson after work and wouldn't be home till around 8:30, so I took my Chinese yum-yums home, gobbled them up, and then spent some time with Jean-Marc and Mathieu in the pages of Le coeur découvert.

Once Dörthe got home, I introduced her to the wonders of the dry gin martini; she was very pleased with the martini glasses, but the gin martini was too dry and strong for her. We decided that tomorrow I would get the fixin's for a gin cosmo and see how that suited her, being a big devotee of Sex in the City, she thought she might enjoy them!

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 11 - Sunday 7.17.05

I crawled out of my casket-like couchette and stumbled down to the Waschraum to spritz some water on myself and coat myself with new layers of cologne and cologne, and finally brush my teeth. There was no room in the compartiment nor in the Waschraum to change my clothes, so the clothes I had put on early in the day on Saturday, and had slept in, were going to be the clothes I was wearing to arrive in Hamburg.

The train pulled in around 7AM, and walked to the taxi stand; as I approached it, a large black man was also exiting the building and he asked me if I needed a ride. At first I was suspicious since he wasn't sitting in a taxi, but he lead me to his car just a few feet away, an official cab. One of the nice things about taxi cabs in Hamburg is that they're all Mercedes 200 series, roomy, fast, and moderately classy.

It turned out that his name was Nesco and he was Togolese. He had lived in France, in the Bordeau region for some time, but then relocated to Hamburg. He could speak English, French and German, besides nis native language from Togo. His sister, as it turned out, lived in Philadelphia, and he had recently visited her, and complained that the summer heat in Philadelphia was as bad as Africa! He told me how he had visited Hershey and the Amish, and how he looked forward to going back to Pennsylvania. It's amazing how global the world has become really, and yet how provincial so much of America has remained. A second theme to my trip would have to be the reality of globalization.

Nesco got turned around on the way to Dörthe's, but he was good about it, and only charged me 10€ for the trip, even though the clock read more.

Dörthe lives in the Eimsbüttel section of the city, a nice residential neighborhood with Altbauhäuse (old style apartment buildings usually four or five stories with mansard roofs) and lots of nice local restaurants, bars and shops. Hamburg, technically a city-state within the German Bundesrepublik, is a pleasant very manageable large city, with nearly 2 million people. It's large port and commercial center as well best known for its beautiful Rathaus (city hall), its large Alster See in the middle of the city, and its 100,000 bridges which criss-cross the various canals, streams and rivers running through the city. It is also known for its lewd red-light districts, the most famous of which is in the St. Pauli area, the Reperbahn. Aside from these notable exceptions, Hamburg is not much of a place for tourists really. You could really see most of what Hamburg has to offer in just a couple days, and over the past ten years, it really hasn't changed much. My motivation in coming here was strictly social, to visit with my friend Dörthe with whom I went to college way back at East Stroudsburg.

Dörthe lives on a nice residential street, Hartwig-Hesse near Osterstraße, a main shopping street. Her building is a pretty Altbauhaus, and she lives on the third floor. Sadly there's no elevator so you have to walk up a lot of steps which is a little bit of work with luggage. When I got there, Dörthe had breakfast and coffee waiting, and we visited and chatted, I settled into the living room where I would be staying, and the got a shower. I did some laundry after that and they we went on the U-bahn to a station along the Alster and walked around the Alster See. We stopped along the way for gelatto and then for beer, and caught up on recent events and reminisced. We then walked over to the Sala Thai and had a great Thai meal. After supper we went back to Hartwig-Hesse-Str. and watched a DVD and called it a night.

dimecres, d’agost 10, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 10 - Saturday 7.16.05

The last day in Brittany...

In the morning I went downstairs and had my last breakfast at the Ibis. Incidentally, over the past few mornings the encargado for breakfast has been this lovely little piece of all right with olive skin, brown eyes and dark brown hair and 19 if he was a day. To the staff at the hotel of course I speak French, and I was really amused when he asked me where I was from at this last morning. I told him he had to guess, and he said he thought the north or Belgium. He was really shocked when I told him New York. After all these years, more than 20 now of studying and speaking French, I can blend into the background, a reality to which there are many benefits because people will say things about America in your presence if they think you're French that they might not say if they know you're an American. Not that I mind what they have to say; generally I agree with them anyway.

After breakfast I went to a Breton store on le 14 Juillet, but it didn't open till 10. I decided then to go across the street to a little café-bar and have a nice cup of coffee and wait. By the time I was finishing my drink, the store clerk had arrived and put out the mat. I went across the street and inquired about Gwenroc, a lovely Breton whisky with a sort of slight cinnamony flavor. The clerk told me that they last bottle she had was in the window. I told her I would take it, and she then wrapped it up in bubble tape so that it could make the long journey home safely.

I returned to the hotel and finished packing, and around noon checked out and left my backs at the front desk. My train to Germany didn't leave till 5PM, so I had the afternoon to wander around Renne one last time and take some pictures. I rode the metro up to Place St. Anne in the old city, and emerged to see a used book flea market on the square. It was probably a providential moment, as while I was walking by one table a book by Michel Tremblay caught my eye. I had read and studied some of Tremblay's work when I was at Binghamton, and even translated a number of his short stories for my translation class. I was most interested in his work on Émile Nelligan, the Victorian Montréalais homosexual poet who languished away much of his life in what amounted to be a sanitarium.

The book for sale was called Le coeur découvert and after reading the back cover, I decided I would buy it, and at 4€, it was definitely worth while. It relates the story of 39 year old French teacher at a Cégep in Montréal who falls in love with a man 14 years younger than he. Given current context of my own life, I thought it might be a very interesting read for me. I tucked the book into my back pack and continued my walk through the old city, takin snaps of old buildings that caught my eye. Eventually I ended up on the Place du Parlement and noticed an Irish pub, O'Connells, and stopped in there for a pint of Beamish. The weather today was much more pleasant, sunny, but only in the mid-70's and less humid. After my pint I was ready for a late lunch and went back to the restaurants behind the station and chose the Blue Marine, and enjoyed a lovely filet mignon de porc, al fresco, as indeed had every meal out had been over the week. It was getting close to 4 so I went back to the hotel, collected my things and went next door to wait for my train.

I was taking the TGV fron Rennes to Paris, and then from Paris to Hamburg a Nachtzug, Night Train. I had tried several other options for getting from portal to portal, but all the other options were really too expensive. I had purchased my tickets some days before, waiting too long in stifling heat, but for a small supplement I upgraded to first class, and was looking forward to the "Orient Express" treatment. The TGV left promptly at the appointed hour - the trains in France are notoriously timely - and in no time at all I was at the Gare de Montparnasse. En route, I read nearly half the Tremblay novel, finding the whole story far to riveting and pertinent. I took a cab from Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord since I didn't feel like schlepping my bags across the metro. On the way I got the see the neighborhood where I have staid many times in Paris, including the little Italian Trattoria where I dined with Nathalie and Adam a couple years ago. I also caught glimpses of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame de Paris.

From the Gare du Nord it was a ten hour overnight right on the pokey Deutsche Bahn Nachtzug, where first class turned out to mean you only had to share your compartiment with one other person (in stead of five!!), altho the French-Algerian nurse, whom I encountered as I entered the compartment, and I did end up with a young Gambian man as well, and sadly apparently Gambians haven't embraced Right-Guard. Fortunately or unfortunatetly depending on how you look at it, he spent most of the night talking to other 20-something foreign nationals whose only common language was something ressembling English, and the lot of them talked about all manner of things, including religion and sex, oy vey.

The nurse and I did our best to sleep in our uncomfortable couchettes that were small, hard as rocks and cramped. I slept very little, but did catch a few winks, disturbed even so in the wee hours of the morning, somehwere near the Niedersachsen border by the voice of the Gambian having since wandered to another compartiment saying, "Oh that's niiiiicce!" From the tenor of his voice I assume that one of the Polish girls he'd been kabitzing with earlier was showing a little ta-ta or else sizing up his African bologna. Either way, after a restless night, it wasn't exactly the icing on the cake...

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 9 - Friday 7.15.05

This was the last day of class, and I was honestly downtrodden; we had done nearly a semester's worth of work in just five days, and the people, and the course itself were both a lot of fun. The format of the last day was a little different in that we stopped at 12:15, and then all ventured to a small Maghrebin café-bar on the street behind the train station. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, and we later learned the Skol uses this place for Breton conversation groups during the week. The owner prepared a typical Maghrebin beef roast for us with artichokes, peas and potatoes as a side. It was very tastey, and the coffee they made was excellent as well. We had a nice lunch all of us teachers and students together, and I even got to tell some English and Welsh jokes, including the one about Arty choking two for a pount at Safeways.

After lunch we returned to the school and I got a chance to talk to Fañch in more detail about his own experience with the Breton language. He had been raised in a family in the far west of Brittany where the language is still fairly common on the ground. His father spoke Breton and his mother spoke Gallo; Gallo is the local latin based language in the same family as Francien which gave rise to the standard French we learn today in schools and is used as the French designated in Article 2 of the Constitution of the 5th Republic. He himself didn't speak much Breton as a youth, but took it up in college where he met his would-be wife who was also studying the language. Eventually they married, and now he and his wife use Breton as their main language, and they plan to raise their children with the language when they have them.

During our last afternoon we were given teams and recipes in Breton and supplies to make the desserts featured in the recipes. This was a dangerous experiment which only half worked, but we assembled our sundry desserts as best as we could and then went outside and played "Palais" a local Upper Breton (eastern part) game a little like horse shores, only played with a wooden square as the base for the target and metal disks. One person from each team tosses the target disk, and the team with the target disk on the wooden base first gets first crack at tossing their remaining disks nearest the target. The local folks did pretty well by large and far, but we Austro-Yanks did pretty poorly. Once or twice we nearly clocked Tifenn on the head with a disk as she rushed to collect ones that had gone astray. The school had two sets of Palais disks. Apparently it's a bad thing to mix the sets of disks up as they are waited slightly differently from set to set, as people who are very serious about the game are able to judge how hard they should throw by the weight of the disks. Should the sets be mixed up, they might forget to feel for the weight and have a bad throw.

After Palais we went back inside and tries our more or less successful desserts, and then we said our good-byes after each receiving a copy of "Les premiers 1000 mots en breton" and a certificate proving that we had successfully completed the course. Sam and Raja planned on contacting me once they reached the Eisteddfod in a few weeks and I had promised to email photographs I had taken of the class to a couple people once I returned to the States.

That evening I went to the little sandwich shop in the station and got a "suprème" loaded with chicken, egg and mayonaise on the same lovely bread, and another slice of yummy flan naturel. In France, even the crappy food tastes great! I returned to the hotel and copied my last set of notes and packed my bags.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 8 - Thursday 7.14.05

Bastille Day...

Of course it makes perfect sense that our Breton course would continue on Bastille Day. Most of the rest of the city was closed up tighter than a drum, but a few of the restaurants were open behind the gare to provide for the many tourists who were still wandering around Rennes; one of the running jokes about Brittany is that it has four languages: French, English, Breton and Gallo. In the past few years droves of English tourists have actually taken up seasonal residence in the province.

Our daily routine wasn't much changed, and the heat was still to be contended with. The only strange thing of note during the day was when Sam gave me his email address. the adress contained the letters A and C, and I asked him what the significance of this was, and he laughingly said that it meant that he was "ACDC" (he is, in fact married). Later on during the day, he made mention of how much he liked my "Breizh" ring that I wear on my right ring finger. In another conversation we were talking about the Seremoni Cymry a'r Byd during the Eisteddfod in Wales, and I asked him if he and Raja were planning on attending. He said that they would be there that day, and then I mentioned that I had been on the main stage during the ceremony at the Eisteddfod in Meifod two years earlier, and that my friends in Wales had told me that they saw me on television. Sam joked that he had seen me too, pretending that he had been in Wales for that Eisteddfod and had been watching the ceremony on television. He said to me in Welsh (most of our conversations were in Welsh) that he remembered seeing this "cutie" on TV. By the end of the string of conversations I concluded that I had been hit on by and Australian, but in Welsh, something else to add to my list of real life experiences in foreign languages... It could well have been that he was joking, but joking or not, I don't play with married men, unless, of course, I don't know that they're married. There is something to the US military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy after all I suppose.

In the evening I went to the creperie behind the gare and had a gallette (a buckwheat crêpe filled with savories rather and sweets) stuffed with cheese, bacon and potatoes. I also had a Breton kir amd a mug of cider, all very tastey. Incidentally, the word crêpe is a Breton word. The French borrowed the original word krampouezh some time ago, and buried the "m" marking its grave with the circumflex. In old French it would have been crempes, and then later crêpe. The Bretons are respected all over France for their gift of the crêpe to French cuisine, and even in Paris you will pass a Ti Krampouezh, a crêpe house run by Breton immigrés to the Capital.

After supper it was back to the revisions and preparations for our last day of class.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 7 - Wednesday 7.13.05

Di Merc'her, ha tomm tomm eo e Raozhon...

Wednesday, and the weather continued to be hot. It's been hot all week, and there seems no let up in the weather; thankfully I brought plenty of water to class, stopping each day and getting a big 2 litre bottle to bring to class. It is hard to work in the heat, and as is well documented, much of France is ill equipped to deal with extreme warmth.

The events of the day were in general little changed from the others, except today I chose to lob one of my famous impertinent questions. During the afternoon coffee break, when a welcome albeit warm breeze was blowing in through the big jalousied windows facing straed Pierre Martin, I chose to ask the assembled company, all the staff and the students, whether they felt Breton and then French, French then Breton, just French or just Breton, and I used the example of Wales, and compared it to what I had already observed on previous trips to Brittany as well as my shock at the treatment of the Musée de Bretagne.

The vast majority of the students said little, but those who did basically said, "Ça dépend de la personne," but no one was willing to answer the question directly, all evidently feeling the weight of the Republic on their shoulders. The teachers likewise were fairly middling, although Fañch did his best to explain the various possible points of view.

On the way back to class one of the students came up to me privately and confided that he felt Breton, first and foremost, but he said it quietly and went on his way back to class. Fañch was our teacher for the afternoon, and we continued the conversation as we began the session. He too was resistant to express his opinion openly, and even though he did work to explain to us the current fragmented political situation in Brittany, I too was left feeling the weight of the Republic. Equality, Freedom and Brotherhood notwithstanding, it was obvious that Brittany was not just a subjugated realm now a part of modern and liberal laic state, rather it is country where its people do not feel free to speak their beliefs without fear of reprisal from the government, without fear of being labled a terrorist or a separatist even they even so much as support cultural initiatives.

It is true that France has come a long way in the past ten years in respects to its minority cultures, but it's also true that not enough progress has been made, and his heavy handed approach from the central government in Paris is still a major contributing factor to the continued moribundity of the Breton language.

That evening Sam, Raja and I journeyed on Rennes' only subway line from the SNCF to Liberté, and the metro station in the middle of the old city. Rennes is a very ancient city, and at its heart is a late medieval city scape, with many waddle work buildings lining narrow streets. It is an ancient an beatiful city, by large combining four main architectural periods, the late medieval, 17th century classical French, 19th century Hausmanien with its mansards, and the modern and post modern exemplified by the SNCF, the Ibis and the the metro. The metro is totally automated, from ticket sales to the piloting of the cars. What's fun about the Rennes metro is that you can sit at the front of the train and watch as the tunnel "comes toward you" as their is not engineer to encomber your view. The stations themsevles are vast - cavernous is an excellent way to describe them - they are also clean, well lit and easy to navigate. Currently therer is only one line on the metro, but it hits all the right spots, and during peak hours trains arrive every 4 minutes.

The irony of many place names in Rennes should not escape the devotee of cruel jokes. Many of the city's place names refer to the Revolution, yet Brittany was by far and wide pro-monarchy, not because they necessarily loved the king of France, but because in their world the king of France generally left them alone, and until 1789, Brittany was a semi-autonomous duchy. Such freedom as Breton speaking Brittany had before the first Revolution was without a doubt greater than what it had after the constitution of the most recent Republic ratified in 1952. Article 2 of that constitution clearly states that language of the Republic will be French. Full stop.

From Liberté the three of us wandered north up a small street and stopped at a Lebanese place for supper. Then we crossed eastward to the Thabor for an evening in the park. During the summer, the city was running "Les mecredis du Thabor" in which local Breton folk artists and organizations put on shows. I staid until the sun was nearly set around 10:00 and then made my way back to Liberté and on to the Ibis where I revised and caugh up on journalling, preparing to blog these all when I got home.

And yet this night, as I write in my travel diary, I am haunted by the world I left behind a week before. I was anxious before beginning this trip, not just because it was going to be nearly five weeks long, but because I was in the process of buying an investment property, and just during the week before someone walked into my world and began monkeying with my heart, making me feel things I thought I couldn't anymore. It was a great week being held tenderly and warmly and I was sad to leave him behind, and now, as I prepare to sleep in this hotel room, 3,000 miles from his embrace, and I wonder if I shouldn't have staid at home and perhaps found requiting for a desire so long and tightly held it all but suffocated in my hands. As I close this night, I must admit, the theme of this Rainbow Tour is "Internal Conflict." Worse still, the time alone at night gives me far too much time to think, to imagine, to hope. Yet once again, I damn the very name of Pandora and her fucking box.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 6 - Tuesday 7.12.05

The events of Tuesday were little changed from Monday. On my way down to Straed Pierre Martin I stopped at the little shop in the gare and grabbed some chips, a sandwich, a granny-smith and some water to bring with me for lunch. We worked hard throughout the day, and it was nice to sit outside behind the building which houses the offices and reception room and have a "picnic" lunch with my fellow students and the teachers. It was nice to sit back and listen to conversations in Breton as well. I had been to Brittany several times before, and had rarely heard the language, only most notably during the Festival Interceltique the Lorient, but even there I heard it little. Here at Skol an Emsav it was as common in conversation as French among those who were in attendance, and even among the more advance students, rudimentary conversations in the language were fairly common, especially since Skol an Emsav uses the Oulpan method, and most of the instruction ends up being in Breton anyway. Even the beginners were able to make basic conversation after one day, and by the end of the week we could even hold more complex conversations.

As I mentioned earlier, the school is located in half an old école primaire. The half that Skol an Emsav occupies is partitioned from the the maternelle by a green chainlink fence. The maternelle is run by the French state under the auspices of a local authority, and they have maintained the older part of the complex with the traditional, and sadly drab stone and brick. The areas controlled by the Skol are painted with a cheerful bright mustard color and blue trim, except the office and reception which are in the same building as part of the maternelle, and thus still have the brick. Besides the portion attached to the el of the manternelle, the Skol has four other buildings, two of which are classrooms, one of which is a lavatory, and the final one of which is Dizolo, their technology space and classroom. The buildins are arrange in a U-shape with a center courtyard, and so when you are in the Skol, you really feel as though you're in a world apart.

After class, I stopped at the fancier sandwich bar in the station and got an "américain" on a whole-grain baguette, filled with tomato, hame, cheese, eggs and mayonaise, as well as a "flan naturel" and a couple Heinekins for supper. I went back to the Ibis and revised my notes before slipping off the sleep.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 5 - Monday 7.11.05

Monday, and it was off to school. Even though I teach a lot of classes, I rarely get to take one, so I was very excited about my Niveau 0/1 stage de Breton. I was also nervous, since the communication from the school had been been sporadic and stilted in any language. As of my crossing the threshold to the Skol, I have no idea if the course were actually running, nor if my place in it had been held.

To my great relief, the course was indeed running, and I did have a place. I was the first student (I can't help but be early on the first day, old habits die hard!), and I spoke with the secretary Nadine who gladly took my 200€, offered me some coffee and introduced me to the Assitant Director, Marwenn, who besides Nadine, was the only staff member who seemed like she might be over 40. Another lesson about Brittany: it's very relaxed, perhaps a little too so for anal retentive Pennsylvania Germans.

In the fullness of time most of the other students arrived, 8 in total between the two sections, niveau 0/1 and niveau 2/3; in total there were meant to be 12 students, but four had canclled at the last minute. This apparently was not unusual for this time of year as the big vacation period was beginning in France, and some people must have thought they would like to be on a beach or climbing a mountain in stead of learning Breton while baking away in little school rooms. It was too bad though since really the language needs every learner it can get. Today it is suspected that around 340,000 people still speak Breton, but almost 300,000 of them are over the age of 50. I say suspected because the French government takes no census of minority language speakers within the Republic. Ofis ar Brezhoneg, a semi-official body is now in charge of promoting and working to maintain the language, and it was onwe of their surveys that helped establish t6he 340,000 number. The signs are not quite as grim as they may at first appear, but the threat to the future of Bretgagne bretonnante is very real.

As the morning got underway, we also met the teachers: Fañch, early 30's, tall, long black hair and beard, definitely seems to like heavy metal music, and he and his friends are in a Breton language rock band - he has a quirky and yet charming sense of humor; Tifenn, mid 20's tall and somewhat swarthy the strictest of the bunch in class; Anne, petite with a nice smile, she seemed to be the most effective of the three in the classroom, but all were excellent instructors. What struck me was how young they all were, and not just because I'm getting older. In Wales, the typical adult-ed language teacher is a retired person volunteering to teach the language or working for very little money. These people were all well-trained professionals whose main job it was to teach Breton, and in them, and people like them the future of the language resides. Seeing such a young face on the caretakers of the language was heartening.

The students, like the professors, all tended to be fairly young, one, a business teacher, was perhaps late 30's. They ranged in age little, and likewise professions. Five of the eight, myself included, were in education. One worked for a cultural concern in Brittany, one was a computer programmer and two were graduate students (Sam and Raja, but more on them later). There were four each in each of the sections by the time things settled down, but in the beginng, on Sam and I were in the beginners' group. The 8th student would not arrive till the following day, and then on that day too, Raja would also join us, self-demoting from the more advanced group.

The routine each day was that we would begin around 9AM, have a 15 minute break mid morning, stop at 12:150 for and hour and a half lunch. We would reconvene at 1:45 and continue till 5:30 with an additional 15 minute break mid-way. At 5:00 everyday, the groups would convenen together for a collective group activity with the more advanced students helping the beginners.

On the first day, Sam, Raja and I went to a pizza place behind the SNCF for lunch. During the morning introductions I learned that Raja, who lives near Philly, and Sam, who lives in Boston but comes orginally from Australia, both speak Welsh. We would use our Welsh to help us learn Breton throughout the week, and this was especially important for Sam whose French was very week. They are both very sweet people. Sam is a doctoral student at Harvard in Celtic Studies and Raja is about to begin a program of Linguistics. They are also both very comical, as people back home would say in that they act and react in very much the same way as each other, both very much like the same things, and have a propensity toward being easily confused. They were in Europe for multiple rounds of language. After Rennes they were going to Kemper for another course, then on to Llanbedr Pont Steffan for a course in Welsh as well, although really their Welsh was very good and I don't think they need much more work in the classroom.

The day's course went well, and in the evening I went into the old city, to the rue St. Georges to a cybercafé to read my email, then bought a new notebook to revise my notes from class. Finally stopped at the train station and bought a sandwich and some chips and beer and gobbled them up in the hotel room before copying my notes from the day into the nicer notebook.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 4 - Sunday 7.10.05

Sundays are sleepy days in most of France, especially in the "provinces", and even though Rennes is on one hand a very modern city with its fully automated subway system, it is nonetheless a provincial capital, with all that it implies - largely that on Sunday's few people are about and few businesses are open.

The weather was warm and sunny, and after breakfast at the hotel, I set out on foot along the SNCF and along the railroad boulevard toward 25 Straed Pierre Martin, the location of Skol an Emsav. I had a small tourist map of the city the desk clerk provided to me, and I wanted to check my time and the distance to the school. It was in fact very close the Ibis as already mentioned. I found it easily enough across the street from some old rail sheds in half of what had been an old primary school; the other half was still run by the local school authority as a maternelle, a state-run day care. In France, children are provided state-run education from the age of 3.

From Skol an Emsav I walked along the streets that hugged the rails until I came to another main road that crossed them back toward the center of town. I strolled along until I was just south of the heart of the old city, and the old Parlement of Rennes, and turned down rue St. Georges, skirting the old city, and walked to the grand entrance of the Thabor Gardens, sort of like the Central Park of Rennes. The Thabor rests atop a minor mountain in the middle of Rennes, and I scurried up to the top and then took a rest, studying the map to plot my way back across town back to the hotel. I chose a path that would bring back out on the Boulevard du 14 Juillet, the main street that heads north from the SNCF. I returned to the IBIS and relaxed, cooling off from the heat of the day, and very very thankful for the airconditioning.

Shortly after noon, I walked through the SNCF and across the street to the Brasserie Leffe for lunch. I had a nice beef hotpot and some beer, and then decided to head back allong la 14 Juillet to the Musée de Bretagne. Since Rennes is the capital of Brittany, I figured I was in for a treat. I was wrong. Brittany is a Celtic country, but it is not like Wales or Ireland in many senses. Its identity is convoluted, tormented and surpressed. People in Brittany have not yet decided to be Bretons first and French second. The Musée de Bretagne was housed in a grand palais on one of the quais along the Vilaine as it plods through the city, Rennes' version of the Seine, but it shared its accomodation with the Musée de Beaux Arts. When I got there I waited in line and happened to be behind some other Americans, who were having a hard time understanding the clerk at the ticket desk. We all learned, after I offered my translation services, that Musée de Bretagne was moving to new quarters (their own after all), but until then, it was closed, and all the exhibits were in storage.

Imagine, the "national" museum of Brittany in moth balls until its new home was ready! In Rennes, and in Brittany itself then, the decision that beaux arts were more important than Breton history and identity won the day. It's hard for me to imagine the National Museum of Wales, either in the center of Cathays Park in Cardiff, or its larger sister museum at Sain Ffagans, ever putting all their exhibits away for capital improvements to the grounds. There in the lies one of the big differences between Wales and Brittany, two sisters as different as my two sister friends in Tai'n Lôn in Wales. Wales is still a nation rediscovering itself and coming of age, an ancient land with a classical language slowly emerging from the iron crisalis of 19th century imperialism with the hopes and asperations of being the 21st century's Denmark or Norway. Brittany is a 17th century feudal duchy secunded to the French Empire under the guises of Republic and homogeneity, its people not torn as much as blindfolded by the trifecta of soi-disant fraternité, égalité and liberté, none of which apply to you if you're bold enough to be Breton before being French, as I would learn in a couple days.

Disappointed I returned to my hotel room to escape the heat. When the coming of evening, I got a small snack from the hotel bar and called it a night. Monday I was to begin class, and discover the secret Brittany, the one that still spoke a Celtic language.

dimarts, d’agost 09, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 3 - Saturday 7.9.05

Today was of little interest really. I got up and had a mediocre full English breakfast (eggs, sausage, baked beans, pan seared tomato, fried bread, and tea) at the hotel, then waited around till the last minute, writing my post cards and grabbing a pint before leaving. I headed to airport knowing that I had some time to kill, but to my dismay, my wait turned into hours before I could get my flight to Rennes. I had some lunch, tried to read my book (a collection of fantasy short stories I had picked up in Newark), and otherwise just waited, and waited, and waited. In total the plane was delayed more than 4 hours, and so my own wait was abouyt 5 hours, for a plane ride that barely took 45 minutes! Ah, the vagaries of travel...

Nonetheless I arrived and got a cab to my hotel, the ultra-modern Hôtel Ibis Centre Gare Sud literally attached to the Gare SNCF (the train station in Rennes) and a mere two minutes from Skol an Emsav where I would be taking my Breton classes. My room, 612, overlooked the front, hence quiet side of the hotel, but the view was rather poor, since my window faced the yard of a woman's prison! Nonetheless, my room was fairly spacious, bright, and as I said very modern. I like the Ibis chain, and even though the hotel was only two-stars it was comfortable, pleasant, most importantly, I had my own airconditioning! (The other two hotel had been four and three-stars respectively, but I prefered the Ibis by far!)

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 2 - Friday 7.8.05

I awoke around 8AM, dressed and went downstairs to enjoy my "free" breakfast, considering the ridiculous price of the room, it should have been free. I had some nice black currant yogurt, some fruit, orange juice, toast and eggs. I collected my things and schlepped them down three two flights of stairs (the Romsey Manor had not yet installed an elevator!), and by 10AM I was off, heading west toward Stonehenge on the motorway. On my way to the motorway, I got a closer look at Shepperton, and it really is an stereotypical English village, with an old 16th century church, the Romsey Manor itself, and a collection of other tudor style and Victorian (English Victorian of course, not American) buildings.

By around 11:30, I was in the vicinity of Stonehenge. I got lost a few times, but eventually found it. I had always wanted to see it, and I was happy to be there at last, but it was a bittersweet moment. For one thing, tourists can no longer, generally, walk inside the circle itself, rather you have to walk around it on a well-worn path and observe it from a distance. Secondly, eventhough this was still a weekday, the place was mobbed. Additionally, the tourist infrastructure was quite vast, and actually dwarfed the structure itself, although it was set off down the hill, generally invisible from Stonehenge itself. Finally, the structure was really a lot smaller than I had imagined, and while I was still awesome, and I took some relaly nice photographs, it is not something I would rush to see again.

After about 2 hours of wandering the field around Stonehenge and trying appreciate it from various angles, and trying to appreciate what my ancestors had to do to build it, I walked back to the tourist buildings, and bought post cards and a sandwich. As I was nibbling my bacon and cucumber sandwich (the English are the kings of the interesting sandwhich combo!) at an outside café table overlooking the field of Iron Age barrows, I overheard and Englishman decrying how English Heritage (the organization entrusted with the maintenance of Stonehenge) weren't doing enough to make the place a world-class attraction. I was horrified at his suggestion that they should build a theme park next to it and make it the centerpiece of a whole entertainment complex. Since I was eavesdropping I chose to say nothing, but in my opinion Stonehenge is already too touristy as it is.

After my lunch I drove southward, to where else, Southampton. As I drove the weather turned cloudy and humid, but the rain stayed away. I arrived in Eastleigh outside of Southamton and checked into the Corus Potters Heron Hotel, a modern hotel, but one with an old English façade, including a real thatched roof, which is typical of older homes in this area. This hotel was much less expensive (£50) and much nicer, and more modern. My room didn't have airconditioning, but it did have a nice balcony and was very nicely appointed. The hotel had a restaurant and a pub, the latter of which I ventured to for a pint before taking a nap in the late afternoon. With the approach of mid-evening, I opted to go to the hotel restaurant, but this turned out to be a disappointment. The menu consisted entirely of "English Guilt for Centuries of Bad Food" and included all sorts of "fusion" food trying to be something posh. The only thing on the menu that looked appetizing was a mushroom and saffron risotto, which when it arrived just tasted bland and underdone. Before my meal I ordered a martini which came in a tall class (not a martini glass) and contained inferior vodka. I decided I would tempt the coffee after dinner, but it too was foul tasting.

I returned to my room, watched a little television and went to bed, but the combination of little sleep, little protein, cheap coffee and the events around me and various personal feelings about my trip that I brought with me all contributed to a massive panic attack in the middle of the night. Luckily, I was able to fall back to sleep and sleep relatively soundly after the panic attack passed.

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 1 - Thursday 7.7.05

Day 1 actually began on Day -1, on Wednesday, July 6th when I was packing and getting the last few details sorted for my trip. I had hired a car service to ferry me from Schenectady to Newark, and the driver showed up around 2:30 AM and carried my things to the car. On the way down to the airport I chatted with the driver for a little while, but then I nodded off as the trip wore on. I was incredibly tired by that point as I had been up most of the day. I had slept in a little bit, but really couldn't sleep all day since there were still things to get down. The trip to Newark was otherwise uneventful, and I checked my bags and went through security.

When I arrived at the gate, CNN was broadcasting on three televisions sets that a number of strange explosions had just rocked London. For the next hour and a half I sat and watched the events there unfold, wondering if I should even bother going or if I would even be able to land at Heathrow once we got across the ocean. On several occasions I considered just turning around and walking out of the airport, but in the end I decided to stay the course, resoluting vowing that I was not going to meet the Great Question Mark during this trip.

The flight over was equally uneventful as my ride down the airport, and I made Heathrow by around 8:30 in the evening London time. I was very tired however, since I couldn't sleep well on the airplane and only managed to nod off once or twice. I picked up my little black Vauxhall Corsa from the Alamo rental car company (which to my great surprise was an automatic!), and I found my way to my hotel - the Ship - in the quaint little English village of Shepperton about 20 minutes from the airport. Unfortunately, my reservation at the Ship had sunk, and I was forced to look for accomodation elsewhere (it was actually a mix up on the arrival date, and was probably my own fault). The young lady at the Ship recommended another hotel nearby which was twice as expensive, but as I was tired I accepted the rate and drove across town to the Romsey Manor and checked in.

They book me into a room which smelled of smoke, and to my mind was not worth £90 a night. Shortly after entering the room, the night porter was knocking at my door asking if I would be willing to swtich rooms as the clerk had realized that she put me in a room which had only recently been vacated, and may not have been cleaned. They put me in a room on the third floor, but thankfully the night porter helped me carry my bags. The second room was larger and didn't smell of smoke, and I was much happer with it. I still didn't think it was worth £90!

I made a few telephone calls to people at home I knew would be worried about my whereabouts during the bombings, and then crawled into bed. As I lay down, I realized that I couldn't find my thumb ring (I had recently bought it at the Western Mass. Highland Games). I went back down to inquire at the front desk, and they let me back into the first room, but I was unable to locate it. I returned to my room a bit disheartened and went to sleep. For some reason, around 5AM, I woke up, and realized I couldn't find my wallet. I looked all over the room for it, and still couldn't find it. I went downstairs, but no one was around. I was frantic, but resigned myself to living on my backup wallet (I do carry two on long trips, just in case). I decided to make a stop in the bathroom, and lo and behold, during my sleep deprived delirium I had put my wallet and my thum ring on on the toilet tank! After feeling like a fool, I crawled back into bed and slept soundly for a few more hours.