It’s that season again, hope, goodwill among men, obligatory. It occasions all sorts of uncharacteristic behaviour.
Thousands see the inside of a church only during this season, Easter, and Mother’s Day. The pews fill with vacant, ecstatic smiles and Oris Root.
Television trots out Christmas Carol, or, in a nod to modernity and comic relieve, Scrooged, but the message’s the same. Everywhere, candles glow white and gold. On cue the media brings forth those delightful colour commentators the media seems to warehouse for such occasions, to pronounce thoughtful, wise but suitably empathetic commentary on topics ranging from soup kitchens to homeless. They might even display an income distribution chart safely tucked away the rest of the year.
Old rock stars release compilations of old rock stars singing old Christmas standards. Or Old Country stars, to taste. If one is too cultured for these, there’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Vienna’s Boys Choir, or Jim Neighbours in Honolulu. On the other hand, if one was stamped “different” from birth, there is, of course, Celtic Women. The ringing in my ears is the every present sleigh bells ring-a-jing jingling in perpetual loops at my local coffee shop.
Everyone and everything has become bloody, nauseatingly warm and rosy.
There is coincidentally a sudden torrent of religious piety from literally unbelievable sources. It certainly spins the dial of politics. Prime Ministers lecture clerics on the proper role of the church. That role is, of course, to reinforce the politician’s concept of social order. It is, above all, not to question his government’s policy, especially if that policy is to screw benefits scroungers. I mean, what is the church for, anyway, if it isn’t moral order?
Occasionally a politician may correctly cite a section of Scripture for the meaning for which it was written. On these occasions, it is invariably from somewhere deep within the law and order portions of the Old Testament. The passage is invariably irrelevant to anything to do with the teachings of Jesus, serving to offer the politician a loose cloak of retained if vague memories from Summer Church School.
But I should be more charitable. It is Christmas. It is hard to remember that musty old book through the haze of all those parties at college. What college is for, but that’s another rant.
I think it may pay to be Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, anything but Christian during these Prime Ministerial moments of piety. Especially if you are sufficiently accursed to actually have read the teachings with a thought to understand them. You find what is left of your teeth ground to the root overnight.
This season of obligatory hope and cheer can be very hard on people. Where have I heard that before?
The above-it-all mutter about the true meaning of Christmas beneath their breaths, refusing to be corrupted into rampant consumer lust, an easy virtue in this time of austerity. There are gifts of hand made items instead. Still gifts, but you were expecting maybe Scrooge, were you? The seasonally affected grasp a blanket. Maybe if they pull the covers over their heads it will all go away.
BBC and CNN dig into the warehouse to produce a psychologist or two to explain, as if for the first time and to a four year old, the impact of the season on some. At such times I recommend firmly stepping away from the channel, switching to DVD, and starting a good movie. I recommend What About Bob for this occasion. Go with that.
But one basic truth remains concerning the impact of this season on affect. No one remains unaffected. The obligation to be cheerful meets the least naturally cheerful time of the year. The warehouse is sure to disclose an expert in myth to explain that the holidays were always designed that way in response to Solstice, or something like that.
This year we have the additional elements of worldwide war, famine, political upheaval, and disease. In short, situation normal. Well no, not quite normal. There is that little thing called the onset of another Great Depression. There, that ought to do you for this bloody cheerfulness business.
I suppose it is time for the schmaltzy, hope-in-the-darkness turn to the narrative.
Just as I am about to protest, I will not do yet another schmaltzy, hope-in-the-darkness turn in the narrative, a little voice opens up inside my head. It sings “Little Drummer Boy,” the Black Eyed Peas version.
Are those candles I see before me?
I can see row on row of little white candles set inside red glass votives, glowing yellow in the darkness, casting their reflection across a golden oak railing, highlighting a statuette of a Virgin and a child. No, I am not Roman Catholic. But I do have memories of a desperate moment in my life where the only thing between me and oblivion was such an alcove.
I’m humming now. Damn, I’m all bloody, nauseatingly tingly warm and rosy.
It happens every year at this time. The truth is, it has nothing to do with what is going on outside or inside anyone else but me. Hope is an internal mechanism not an externally caused event.
Hope is also not faith. Faith is a term we give to behaviour acting on a commitment acting on a deal with the divine, often entered into so long ago we have little retained memory of the event.
Hope is a well spring of energy that picks us up when we fall down. Hope is a Toddler getting up to walk again.
Many of us tonight occupy that uncomfortable and ill defined place between letting go of what has been and did not work, or did work and is completed, and finding something new and exciting with which to begin again, vaguely suspicious it isn’t out there. Our discomfort is nothing beside that of the multitude who will never again find a new and exciting anything. But it is our discomfort.
Pretty much like clockwork the new beginnings come.
But maybe not this year. The West at least, if not the entire globe, rolls into this year’s holiday season in a somber mood. The mood music is more 1812 Overture in fear of a Night on Bald Mountain than Silent Night. We seem at times to be holding onto a rope, wanting to cling to it just long enough to make it through New Year. We expect that the other side of New Year we must let go, and that when we do there will be no safety net beneath us.
Anyone who said this was not a scary time would be giving false comfort. It is a scary time.
Anyone who said this is all going to work out, it will all be fine, would be giving false comfort. We don’t know how it will work out.
But that has nothing to do with hope, or why this season brings hope. This season brings hope because hope is the healthy response to the insurmountable challenge. And hope has proved itself. It has moved our species forward, time and again, against seemingly insurmountable challenges.
No one can guarantee the future success of you, yours, the nation, the world, life as we know it. But we can light a candle in a votive. That candle’s glow may cheer someone who has come anonymous and alone in a desperate moment. That cheer may become hope, and it is hope that moves us forward to beat the odds.
But what is objective physics of hope? Where’s the science to the religion? Empathy may be the divine wind, sympathy the still, small voice. But acting on these, and you acting accordingly, constitutes the true G*d particle in the physics of hope.
Over a million and a half people call greater Bristol home. First chartered in 1155 AD, its busy port sent explorers and migrants all over the globe. 34 cities across the globe bear its name. (Photos left and right by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
Bristol is the seat of one of the UK’s major universities, the University of Bristol, (Photos right Bristol Student Union and Bristol U Art Department by John C Dyer, summer 2011) a rival to its esteemed colleagues, Oxford and Cambridge.
Bristol is a survivor, reborn as a modern city from the rubble of the Battle of Britain. After over 850 years rich in history, Bristol remains vital. It is figured to be among the five cities in the UK best positioned to re-emerge strong and vibrant from the current recession.
Yet an ancient spirit still weaves through its hilly streets. (Photo left: "An Old Spirit" by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
Bristol’s special meaning
Bristol has meaning for both my partner and I. For her, it was her first professional and family home, the birthplace of her daughter. For me, it is the scene of Dyer dramas both ancient and modern. Victoria guided me among her favourite haunts.
Queen Victoria still presides over Bristol Cathedral (Photo right by JC Dyer summer 2011). The Cathedral exterior is young relative to Wells, Exeter and Salisbury (Photo left by JC Dyer, summer 2011), but its Chapter House (meeting room) is Norman. (Photos left by JC Dyer summer 2011) .
The Cathedral’s windows and interior are new, the originals casualties of the Blitz, but detailed in the magnificent old tradition. (Photos left and above by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
Its cloisters have an ancient feel. (Photo left by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
The dark stone Cathedral shelters a unique garden graveyard (Photo center left by JC Dyer, summer 2011), which like many English graveyards is oddly inviting. So inviting, in fact, a picnic area nestles among the graves (Photo far right by JC Dyer, summer 2011).
We were hungry, so we gave the area a once over. But we soon left. Victoria knew the man buried most immediately next to the picnic grounds. We hiked up a hill to the Cafe Rouge. Victoria knew a cafe not far from the Cathedral which she prefered to show me. (Photo left by JC Dyer, summer 2011).
Lunch was lovely.
Tummies satisfied, it was on to the Bristol City Museum. A WWI vintage airplane dominates the entrance (Photos right by JC Dyer, summer 2011).
The museum holds a vast array of treasures, sculptures (Photos left by JC Dyer, summer 2011) and mummy cases among my favourites. Even more favourite than my usual beloved Impressionists and dinosaur bones.
After over an hour of wandering the Museum, it was time for afternoon tea. We beat it to one of those many side streets that so feature in a British town, the ones that make a village out of a city. My partner knew of a little cafe with excellent tea and cakes, the Primrose Cafe (Photo left above by John C Dyer, summer 2011). We enjoyed a pot of tea each, cake, and the intriguing surroundings (Photo right above by John C Dyer, summer 2011).
Braced by Costas Cappuccino, Victoria and I approached the entrance to the Square adjoined by both the Cathedral and the ruins of the Roman Baths. It was early.
Street musicians made their way to their posts as we entered. A bicycle parked next to its street musician owner advertised a performance schedule that evening. ( Photo left: Bath Cathedral -"Through a Portal," photo right center "Beside One Musician", photo right "Street Musicians Take Their Places" by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
We were distracted by one of the objects of our quest in Somerset, a shop selling Wedding Rings. But they were not the hand crafted type we sought. (Photo left "Wedding Bands, by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
The Cathedral rose majestically at the Square’s other end. As we gazed at the towers of the Cathedral extending toward the sky as if in praise, a woman’s voice filled the Square with the most unexpectedly rich Soprano. Tourists and locals stopped what they were doing and listened. (Photos center right "The Voice" and "Bath Cathedral" by JC Dyer, summer 2011)
Both Victoria and I felt our spirits soar with the Voice. As if ushered along by it we entered Bath Cathedral. I gasped at its interior. (Photo left "Bath Cathedral Interior by JC Dyer summer 2011).
When I was Executive Director of the Hellenic American Union in Athens, Greece, I had the opportunity to arrange and moderate a talk in January 1984 – or actually a panel discussion –on opera that featured Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer himself, and his work. I also attended a lunch in his honor shortly thereafter hosted by US Ambassador Monteagle Stearns and his wife Toni at the Ambassador’s Residence.
When "The Last Savage" premiered at the ParisOpéra-Comiquein 1963 and then at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1964 - it bombed: despite its All Star Met cast. The opera then lay dead and seemingly buried for years. The prolific Menotti continued to compose, write libretti for and direct many more works. “The Last Savage” was resurrected in Honolulu in 1973 where, a decade later, it fared much better. Then back to the drawer. That the Santa Fe Opera included it in its current season is a tribute to General Director Charles MacKay who himself had worked on one of the productions, had known Menotti, and decided to give it another try. (Photo left: Anna Christie as Kitty, Dan Okulitch as Abdul (in cage) and dancers. Photo by Ken Howard).
In answer to the negative reviews in 1964 Menotti responded: “To say of a piece that it is harsh, dry, acid and unrelenting is to praise it. For better or for worse, in ‘The Last Savage’ I have dared to do away completely with fashionable dissonance, and in a modest way, I have endeavored to rediscover the nobility of gracefulness and the pleasure of sweetness.”
Well yes; and well no.
“The Last Savage” is, for the most part wonderfully lyrical and melodic. Its rhythms are complex and pleasing. Atonality and dissonance are used sparingly but to great sardonic effect. It’s not as if Menotti didn’t know how to use these twentieth century musical modalities – rather he – more than most other composers of his generation knew when to use them. And like Bernstein, when not.
This hilarious story moves
The opera itself is in three acts and all told lasts nearly three hours but those hours fly by. Two acts (I and III) are set somewhere in northern India where a local Maharajah and his hefty official wife – the Maharanee - reign. (The Maharajah has a total of 27 wives but the others are – he tells us - concubines.) (Jennifer Zetlan as Sardula, Jamie Garton as the Maharanee, KEvin Burdette as Mr. Scattergood and Thomas Hammons as the Maharajah. photo by Ken Howard)
The second act takes place in the United States. My research tells me that Menotti placed Act II in New York – but the Santa Fe Opera took liberties with the American setting and moved it –effectively – to CHICAGO (neon lights and all).
A large banner carried by minimally clothed paper-cut-out-thin South Asian swamis clad only in stylized white turbans, loin-cloths and body tattoos whose very appearances - not to mention backbreaking “dancing” style - provided their own form of comic relief especially when they suddenly emerged as potted jungle plants later in the production. (CHICAGO and cast photo by Ken Howard)
But wait. . .
As the first act opens, we find ourselves in Rajaputana – Menotti’s name for his mythical Indian setting. We are escorted there by the banner-carrying swamis.(Photo left: Maharajah and swamis, photo by Ken Howard) Rajaputana is shortened to Raja in the final act. Now this may mean nothing to most people (including critics and commentators I’ve read), but Menotti – who surely knew the meaning of the word “putana” in both Hindi and Italian – chose it carefully as a less than nice descriptor for this mythical kingdom near the Himalayas where Kitty, the blonde heroine, a Vassar anthropology major dressed - in the Santa Fe Opera production - in a pale pink cross between a safari outfit and a 1963’s pants suit had come to find "The Last Savage."A project for her senior thesis.
Kitty is accompanied in this questionable adventure by Mr. Scattergood, her indulgent wealthy, businessman father clad in gray suit and white pith helmet – who in his own day, we learn near the end, had had a secret youthful foreign adventure of his own.
(Photo left Anna Christie as Kitty and photo right Anna Christie as Kitty and Kevin Burdette as Mr. Scattergood by Ken Howard)
I used to understand the Liverpool accent. That was 1987. Today it is "Scouse." Sounds like a cross between Norse and Welsh. But not English. A year later, I still scratch my head trying to listen and understand. Local idioms are among the most fascinating aspects of the adventure saga into which I have made the last "age" of my life. Then there is the Lancashire "Are you OK?" Asked with such a concerned expression one is dead sure that, undisclosed by telltale pain or weariness, there is a great fissure working its way down one's now ashen face. It just means, "Hi, how are you?" Not to worry. (Photo Farmscape right by JCDyer, summer 2011)
In between acclimating myself to my new world of fascinating North West UK smells, sounds, idioms, I have managed a trip or two, like my recent one to Edinburgh.
Another is a trip to Somerset I will share in three installments, Wells and Glastonbury, Bath, and Bristol.
We chose Bath Travel Lodge as “base camp” for our Somerset trip, preparing to take in Bath, Wells, Glastonbury, and Bristol. Each held significance for us. My partner grew up not far to the south of Wells in Dorset. She began teaching in Bristol. Her daughter was born there. For me, it was a major site in the legends of my childhood hero, Arthur, and potentially the home of my Dyer ancestors.
It also has great hand crafted wedding bands, definitely field for the two intrepid partners.
The morning of the first full day, my partner drove the 22 miles from Bath to Wells through the “warm apple pie and mulled cider” farmscape of Somerset’s Mendip Hills. Glastonbury Tor floated in the distance like a green island on a dark blue green lake. Glastonbury was indeed an island in a marshy lake into historic times. As befits one of the most legendary mystic sites recorded in the English language, it evokes Wagner and Mussorgsky in one breath.
Some sights stay with you, sometimes because magnificent, sometimes because atmospheric, sometimes because of associations, sometimes for very personal reasons. Wells Cathedral ticks all these boxes for me. Although the town of Wells itself was always relatively small, still little over 10,000 in 2001, Wells Cathedral was once the administrative center for one of the United Kingdom’s most influential and important Bishops, the Bishop of Wells. The King of Wessex constructed a church on this site in 705 A.D. Construction on the current cathedral began in the 10th century, but began in earnest in or around 1175 AD. It was completed in 1239 AD. A 1,000 year old font remains from the Saxon era. (Photo right by JC Dyer summer 2011)
The Cathedral’s massive exterior is breath taking enough as it is today. But consider its details and the statues which line its exterior walls (Photo left detail, Well Cathedral by JC Dyer summer 2011) were once brightly painted, visible at great distances in the medieval landscape. Something of the colour scheme can be glimpsed from its currently painted interior It is magnificent, graceful, and intimate all at the same time. Wells is sometimes called the poem among England's Cathedrals.
(Photos of Wells Cathedral by JC Dyer summer 2011)
But there were more personal reasons for me. What is it about in old age some of us become endlessly fascinated by our genealogies? Famously leading to that noble or famous forebear, perhaps a King. My inquiries, which have included genetic testing, have brought me to redefine the question, but a part always seems to be the line of our fathers and of our mothers. Perhaps it is motivated by the same impulses behind ancestor worship.
That was the inquiry that brought me to Wells Cathedral. The earliest record of a Dyer to whom I can prove some sort of a connection is found in the records of this Cathedral, a Henry Dyer appointed in 1329 to a Benefice by the then Bishop of Wells during his first year as Bishop. The Bishop involved was Bishop Ralph of Salpino (Shrewsbury). Not long into my visit to the Cathedral I found his burial (Photo right above, Bishop Ralph’s burial by JC Dyer summer 2011). Another to whom I have some proven relationship administered the Chartulary in the last quarter of the 15th Century. As I stood on the steps leading to the administrative complex high in the Cathedral I wondered that I stood where another John Dyer had daily hiked to work in the 15th century. (Photo right above: Steps leading to the Administrative complex, Photo left above: Wells Administrative Meeting Room by JC Dyer, summer 2011).
Outside the Cathedral lies the Bishop's Palace (Photos far left by JC Dyer, summer 2011), which can be viewed from the Cathedral's lovely tea room (Photo near right by JC Dyer summer 2011).
Also outside lies the Music School, the student housing so charming I drifted into imagining student life (Photo far left by JC Dyer summer 2011), interrupted by a street musician playing a Mandolin (Photo near left by JC Dyer summer 2011).
I could go on endlessly about Wells, the Bishop’s Palace, the Wells Music School, its ancient history. It is a remarkable place to visit. I can see myself living there. But a day is short. It was time to boogie on down the road to Glastonbury.
Glastonbury: the Legendary Avalon
Glastonbury is, as I am sure every reader knows, world famous for its music festival, its ruins, and its associations with Arthur. Glastonbury is the legendary Avalon, site of Arthur's burial. A medieval story has monks at the Abbey digging up the remains of Arthur and his Queen. Of course, you will get a fist fight from a Cornishman over wrongly locating Arthur outside of Cornwall. Every good Cornishman knows Tintagel is at least Arthur's "Keliwick" and lies above the Camel estuary where there is absolutely no doubt the ruins of Camelot will one day be found. No doubt. Shhhhh. (Photo left by JC Dyer summer 2o11)
When is a rose, not a rose? When it's a Hawthorne
A possibly older legend, also in part involving Cornwall, is a little less widely known outside the UK. It concerns Joseph of Arimithea. Joseph of Arimithea, so the story goes, came as a missionary to Britain after the Crucifixion, landing on the Fowey River in Cornwall. There may be more to this legend than meets the eye. The non-canonical literature lists Joseph as a tin merchant. Cornwall was an ancient center of tin mining. Joseph legendarily founded a Christian order at Glastonbury.
At the ancient mystic Tor, Joseph allegedly transplanted a “rose” brought with him from Jerusalem. The rose turns out to be a Hawthorne and not originally planted at the Abbey. Also consistent with modern research that suggests the crown of thorns may well have been made of a plant like Hawthorne. The bush originally identified as Joseph's was not in fact planted on Glastonbury Tor. The current bush is a descendant of one transplanted from a nearby hill. This bush (or perhaps more accurately its descendent) remains.
Britain’s Mt. Shasta?
As rich as is the history and the legends that surround Glastonbury, that is not the first impression I had as we arrived. My first impression? The Mount Shasta of Britain, a centre for fans of New Age culture. (Photos left Glastonbury store and street bagpiper by JC Dyer summer 2011). Colourful people everywhere. Photos right, Glastonbury Street scenes by JC Dyer summer 2011)
First Impressions are everything, they say. Both very English and not at all English all at the same time.
By the time we hit the ruins, we were bushed - seeking comfort in hugging Joseph’s rose (Photo left: the author Hugging "the Rose"). We could only tour the ruins of the Abby, observing other visitors. We had to settle for seeing the Tor through the camera (Photos Glastonbury Tor, Victoria "bushed." Ruins/Visitors by JC Dyer summer 20011) rather than hiking to the top, while drinking tea from the Abbey Tea Shack (Photo right by JC Dyer summer 2011).
After small "t" tea failed to up the energy, we bagged further exploration and schlepped down the road for evening “Tea” at Wagamams of Bath (Photo right by JC Dyer, summer 2011). For the uninitiated, capital "T" Tea in the UK is the evening meal. Note to Self: in the future, reserve at least a day each for Wells and Glastonbury. They are worth it.
Evenings in Bath are gorgeous. The sun moves across the local "Bath Stone" of which so many are made, etching them in shadow while turning them golden. (See Bathstone photos right by JC Dyer summer 2011) Particularly pretty was the Covered Bridge(Photo below left by JC Dyer summer 2011).
The entrance to the ruins of the Roman Bath beckoned, but that was for another day Even the trees whispered of adventure, mysticism, playful light yet to come. (Photo left center of Roman Bath entrance and "Whispering Trees" right by JC Dyer summer 2011).
I’m driving North on Route 285 to check out the pueblos that usually offer fireworks for sale at this time of year. The question: are they, this year?
At the moment New Mexico is suffering a record-breaking drought. We are trapped in a tinder box, and it is igniting. Hundreds of wildfires dot the state, some very close to home, my home. Meanwhile, I’m heading North.
To the right of me, just across the Rio Grande, the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history is only now coming under control. Over one hundred thousand acres has gone from green to black. This fire threatened the city of Los Alamos, whose population was evacuated, and caused the closure of the National Laboratory, where the Atomic Age was born. Airborne disaster would have resulted, I'm told, had the conflagration reached some dumps where “low level” nuclear waste is stored. (It shouldn’t still be there, but the hazardous waste clean up process is an evasion of responsibility game that ignores possibilities like wildfire invasions.) The fire intruded onto Santa Clara pueblo land and damaged some ancient dwellings at Puye. It burnt apple orchards in Dixon. It raged onto the federally protected meadows and forest lands of the Valles Caldera, a huge collapsed volcano in the Jemez range.
To the left of me are the still-burning remnants of the Pacheco Canyon fire which caused the closure of some of the best hiking trails in Northern New Mexico and prompted Santa Fe authorities to bar its addicted hikers from all the mountain trails within its precincts. For the most part, the Pacheco fire confined itself to forested national and state parks or wilderness areas. Still, thousands of acres of stately ponderosa, nut-bearing piñon and delicate aspen went up in smoke.
As I drive, I’m listening to KSFR, our listener-supported local radio station, which is broadcasting interviews with local officials, whose annually-recurring 4th of July headaches have turned into migraines this year. Not only is there an official city fireworks display to be conducted responsibly, there’s the perennial craving for hands-on experience with fireworks. Sometimes the worry is only about kids who mishandle bottle rockets. Often, as with this year, the hazard is that and more: setting off a fire that surges all but instantly out of control.
Still listening as I drive by the Santa Fe Opera, I learn that the grounds of the Santa Fe High School stadium are even now being fire-proofed for the official celebration. If only the same could be said for neighborhoods where I've heard poppety-pop-pops over the past week. But those naughty fire(cracker)bugs had better be watching out. Coppers, it seems, are cruising the city with fire officials riding shotgun. If anyone is reported (or observed) to be sending rockets into the air, the fire department rep will cite chapter and verse, and the policeman will write a citation. The penalty will be a well-deserved big fine.
I drive through Tesuque pueblo. No fireworks. I pass through Nambe pueblo. No fireworks. A few miles on, I reach Pojaque pueblo—and there it is, parked right out in the open by the side of the road, a big white truck. Painted on its side: a bold fireworks logo. Behind the truck is a huge white tent I've never seen before, but it's purpose is clear: to push incendiary toys. Toys for real kids. Toys for immature adults.
Native Americans pride themselves on being sensitive to the beauty and sacredness of their natural surroundings, but Pojaque pueblo may be badly in need of some extra money. Pueblo leaders borrowed heavily to build an upscale resort—golf and gambling—under a Hilton franchise, but I've read recently of crime-level charges of financial mismanagement and difficulties in meeting bond interest payments. Admittedly, these past few years have not been ideal for opening a major tourist destination.
Please understand that I have no issues with pueblos or other Indian nations running casinos or selling any quantity of hooch or coffin nails to non-natives who want to ruin their own lives. That’s a fair enough exchange for Whites having introduced firewater to the Red Faces in past centuries. But selling fireworks is not a simple matter of indulging individual vice, because fire is no respecter of boundaries. One stray spark and a whole county goes up in flames! In addition, burnt forests can ruin watersheds. Not good at all in this high desert land where the water supply is never in excess of need.
Fireworks sales must be penny ante stuff for Pojaque high flyers. So why are they inviting the scorn and opprobrium of the neighbors, including the nearby pueblos whose members have resisted the temptation. It’s puzzling. But there it rises: a tent as big as three or more tennis courts—and it’s full of fun ways to set our world on fire.
There’s some good news, though. Very few cars are parked outside. And when I enter, I find I’m the only “customer,” except for one young couple, who seem unable to load up the carton the man is carrying. For some reason, they leave empty-handed. An attack of conscience, perhaps? Or maybe the really exciting items were too expensive. I saw price tages of $25 and $50 and more. No wonder the row of six cash registers by the exit looks so deliciously forlorn.
Meanwhile, as the only target in sight, I am beset by underemployed salesmen. “Can I help you?” “Are you finding what you want?” I play along, inspecting the flash/bang potential of the Chinese imports heaped, stacked and piled on tables that go on forever. When addressed, I smile sweetly and reply that I need to see what’s available before I make any decisions. “It won’t be easy,” I murmur. They take that as a compliment and smile back. “Take your time.”
Actually I want to make notes and take a picture or two. But these salesmen have a distinctly thuggish look: muscular men in tight black tee shirts with tattoos running up and down their arms. They loom, and they won’t leave me in peace long enough to slide out my camera and get it into focus. Plus, since I am indeed guilty of bad intentions, I project accordingly. They’ll grab me and throw me out—or worse, if I transgress. So—sigh!—I confine myself to memorizing choice bits from a couple of packages.
“It is a foreign country,” I tossed over my shoulder to Victoria as I reached obsessively for my passport. I slipped it into my weather proof while she shook her head. “Well ...” I let the thought lapse.
We were off to Edinburgh.
To an American, Scotland quacks like a state. To a Scottish Nationalist, it was - and will be again - a country. The Scottish National Party and its leader, John Salmond, intend to schedule a referendum concerning Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.
They want the referendum to take place some time toward the end of this Parliament, not immediately. They say the delay, despite their desires and landslide victory this past May, is because they promised not to hold it until toward the end of the Parliament. No doubt also playing a part is the relative disinterest the voters showed in polls leading up to the election. The news these days is full of the blah, blah about it.
While personally of mixed feelings, I respect what Salmond has done. He has distinguished himself among political leaders for his competence - and for his grasp of “Institutional Economics” and the lessons of the Great Depression that it seems everyone else has forgotten.
The politics of the Referendum and nationalist movements in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall may make interesting reading some day, but for today, the story is “Igore’s Wylde Ryde.” “Igore" is my partner’s nickname for me. Hey, it beats Fang, my nickname at my last job.
From Costas in St. Annes to Edinburgh via the "Ghost Bus"
The wild ride begins at Costas in St. Annes. Costas bills itself as the nation’s favourite. My local one is mine. I can feel your Cappuccino. I am sure that’s what the Emperor said.
Coffee consumed, it was time for a local bus ride to Preston. This was the “Wild Ride.” I ride the Number 68 bus to Preston at least twice a month. It always reminds me of the scene from Harry Potter- the ghost bus rattling down the narrow streets of London at break neck speed. I can hear the conductor in the back of my mind, saying, “we’re in for a bumpy ride.” The Number 68 also reminds me of Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, for similar reasons. So, there it is, the origin of “Igore’s Wylde Ryde.” (Photo right: Coffee and coats at Costas before departure by JC Dyer June 21, 2011).
In Preston, a cup of tea (of course), and then the Coach for the four and a half hour journey to Edinburgh. Only it took, all told, a half hour longer. (Photo left: Preston Art Gallery by JD Dyer June 21, 2011).
Coach travel in the UK is not your grandfather’s Greyhound. The coaches are large and mostly comfortable. (Photo right: bus to Edinburgh by JCDyer June 21, 2011) We have had good experiences using them.
But this time the air conditioner did not work and, well, I made the mistake of sitting next to the Loo. Ewww. A too long experience by the time it was over.
Otherwise "green, bucolic and rolling"
Three words otherwise describe the journey- “green,” “bucolic,” and “rolling.” One could add, “eye candy.”
Along the way, we took a stretch break at England’s favourite rest stop, where we ate our picnic lunch. We then moved with surprising speed through Carlisle and across Hadrian’s Wall - without even noticing the Wall. (Photo far left - rolling countryside and photo left - rest stop by John C. Dyer June 2011.