Saturday, October 27, 2012

LEAN OVER. HANDS ON TABLE.


     Exit Dublin and on to Dubrovnik. 


     We board our flight by groups. Fairly simple — A then B then C then — you get the point. Normally, I wouldn't bother to explain something that is so self-explanatory, but for the passengers on Aer Lingus 446 it was like teaching calculus to Alzheimer patients who've had a melatonin and barbiturate cocktail — impossible. The boarding agent had to leave her post at the jet bridge and ask each individual passenger if they were group A. The passenger would look at their ticket, whimper, then present it to the woman.
     "Yes, this is an A you go now" or "No, this not an A. No yet for you. Later. You B. Wait here." A portly grey-haired man in front of me blurted out, no less than four times, "What about D?" 
    The good news — when she finally says boarding all rows all groups, the crowd just stands and stares. Unimpeded, I casually stroll onto the plane.
     In the Dubrovnik airport, a burly man in military uniform notices the cardboard tube sticking out of Dan's backpack and pulls us aside.
   "What is tube?"
    "A map?"
    "Is new map or antique?"
    "Seventeenth century."
    "Show me."
     Like a seventeenth-century maiden asked by a suitor to see her ankles, Dan gingerly pulls back the lid giving him the just the slightest peeksy of the map's edge. Like a red cape, the sliver of map causes the bull's officer's nostrils to flare. He snorts and adjusts his gun belt. After some coaxing. Dan is forced to reveal the goods.



     Unwashed hands besmudge the haul. "Careful please," Dan says, confused as to who is in charge.
     "I AM CROATIAN CUSTOM'S OFFICER," says Mr. Croatia 1976, pounding his chest like King Kong. "YOU BREAK LAW, DO NOT DECLARE MAP, AND I AM THE ONE TO BE CAREFUL." At this point I'm excused from the airport, so Dan and his new friend can have some alone time for the prostate exam  group-hug portion of the interrogation Croatian welcome.
      Having refused to pay a bribe, Dan and I limp from the airport to beautiful Old Town.  On the wall that encircles the city, we lick our wounds and take in the view. 


     Two kilometers outside the wall is the bombed out remains of Hotel Belvedere.



     We walk through the mortar-blasted grounds, down ten flights of stairs carved into the Dalmatian coastline, and jump in the Adriatic. 


     It's mid-October and we're swimming in the clear turquoise water. The dichotomy of this site is much like the contrast in the people — War torn /angst ridden and overwhelming beauty/kindness. 
     Hvala is Croatian for thank you. We said it often. The citizens of Croatia fall into one of two categories — the most friendly, gracious people in the world or brutish, ready-to-extort-money, one-rubber-glove-on cavity searchers. The concierge at our Hotel in Split, our apartment manager in Dubrovnik, and the staff manning the wall in Mali Stone fall in to the former. 
     I think the Croatian Civil War of the early nineties must have left some of the residents scarred, their residual hostility a side effect of war. But three days later while in our Dubrovnik apartment, I come to understand the true orgin of the citizen's irritability. It isn't the 1991 war. It's chaffed buttocks. 


     I haven't seen peach-colored toilet paper since the early 1980's when my friends and I would toss it into trees during our midnight house rollings. At first I thought the emblem on the paper was a feather, but now have come to recognize it as the Croatian pine cone. The toilet paper, made from a mixture of coarsely ground cones and sand is held together with communist-era, Eastern-European, textile adhesives. With just one sturdy square of paper, you can easily remove your intended target along with several layers of skin.

Hvala.



Highlight - the beautiful scenery and weather.



LOW POINT- second hand smoke
In Split the cigarette reigns supreme. 300 AD relics are so common they're relegated to ashtray status.




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IRELAND: A Love Story (my abuse of the comma, dashes, & run-on sentences)






Let's just be clear. I love Ireland — the Dingle, the ring, the tip, the whole wet bastard.
We visit the pubs of Dublin and encounter The Irish Sobriety Test —the step up urinal. 


It's how you know when it's time to stop drinking. Approach the urinal and step up fourteen inches onto a narrow ledge, sway forward and you're in the pisser, backwards the floor, right or left and your into the bloke next to you.
     We leave Dublin and drive our tiny, standard, stick-shift-and-steering-wheel-on-the-wrong-side car down a narrow, one-lane-supposedly-big enough-for-two-cars goat path deep into the Dingle. The Dingle— it sounds wrong, but there isn't a berry in sight, only breathtaking seascapes.

video

                                         (Yes, that's for two way traffic)


     From there, on to Doolin, a surf town with a great local beer — the Dooliner.  A cross between Guinness and Smithwicks, the Dooliner is like gravy diluted with a shot of seltzer, delicious. I've only been away from it 36 hours, but long for it like a missing limb, if my missing limb were a dark, rich, delicious brew (which it is not, the pale, unpalatable, gangly bastard).  




     Next stop Galway, where Moira, our B&B hostess in her nice woolen skirt, apron, and expensive-appearing high-heeled shoes (not trashy-hooker-high-heels, just an inch-and-a-half,the proper height in which one would  serve "brekky") had prepared a feast for us. Thus far, we'd had pretty standard fare at our breakfast-included hotels — box cereal, mini-croissants, instant coffee, eggs-cooked-hours-earlier-and-left-to-rubberize-in-tepid-water. 
    Moira would have none of that. She was stickler for detail, like Mommie Dearest, only she hadn't beat us with a wire hanger. (I'm sure if we'd asked, she would've glady obliged. There's always next time.) After the freshly-squeezed orange juice, French-press coffee, homemade granola, free ranged eggs (not two-feet-tied-to-a-stake-free-range, "proper free range," the-chickens-need-ear-tags-so-the-farmer-can-find-them free range {and ears on which to place the tags}), I begin to grow suspicious of Moira's cheery disposition and perfect smile. Mid-way through the third course and I'm certain Moira is fattening us up for the slaughter.  I give her my best I'm-gristly-and-unsavory look, yet am unable to stop eating. Hansel and Gretel were pushed in to a hot oven. Dan and I were to be led to the basement, pushed in to a meat grinder, and made into sausages for the next guests.

Cheers.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CLARET BUTTOCKS

Ireland is great. Beware of the baboon-assed, Irish sheep. They drink a bit too much and wander into the road.





One of my favorite memories of London was with a docent at the Wallis Gallery. She was a delightful sixty-plus-year-old ginger (bottled) who was in love with all things Wallis. She raved about the new "claret" wall paper in one of the gallery's upper rooms — the exact same shade as a Ring of Kerry sheep's ass. Both were a bit much for me, but now I can see how the English Anglo-Norman's really put their mark on The Isles (and the sheep). History is great.

Next stop, Dingle. (bipp bipp, shush it)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

CRACKED SKULL


Cornwall - Destination St. Ives


     Cornish accents are pleasing to the ear, and when heard from the mouth of a four year old girl, they're downright adorable. "Mum, if someone fell down there, would they crack their head open?" said  the little girl, standing on the sea wall in her pink rain-boots and pointing to the jagged rocks six feet below. 




It was an excellent question. I wanted to help the little girl out, but before I could answer her question, I needed more information. 

     Has this someone been drinking and lost their cat-like reflexes or were they pushed by an angry lover?   
   Is their skull brittle from old age or is it soft and rubbery from some rare connective tissue disorder?     
     You see, adorable little girl, it really all depends. Doesn't it? But her Mother, with no real interest in intellectual pursuits, returns my smile and ushers the little girl along, ignoring the important question and stifling the child's imagination. I guess child rearing is different here than it is in 'Merica.     Another difference, in America, a pasty is a small adhesive patch strippers used to cover the areola. In Cornwall, a pasty is a small, delicious, hand-held meat pie. Theoretically, a Cornwal pasty could be used as a nipple shield, but then it would just be a freak show. Wouldn't it? (a messy, albeit delicious, freakshow).


Highlights - Views from the cemetery, narrow streets and, of course, the cheese/onion/chive pasty.








   
Next freak show — Oxford.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

London to Bath


THE DEAD SKIN SEA SCROLLS




    It's a short eight blocks to the subway station, but by the time we make it to the platform, my shoulders are killing me. My backpack, jutting out three feet perpendicular to my spine, is trying to bend me to its will. It is succeeding. 
   Between a smartly dressed older woman and and a younger man is the one available subway seat. I approach and the woman clutches her diamonds. Even though my backpack takes up 98 percent of the seat, leaving a measly 2 percent for my buttocks, I'm relieved. Mounted to the seat, my backpack serves as a stanchion. I can't see the fancy woman seated next to me as my body is cantilevered out into the aisle, but I sense tension. She bristles and I realize she thinks me a dirty-smelly-hippy backpacking across europe.
      I am both pleased and annoyed. It is times like these when I wish I were multilingual. I would engage Dan, who is sitting a few seats down and across the aisle, in a foreign tongue, interjecting bits of English to make the lady more uptight.
    
     Italian - L'ultimo hotel ha avuto gli bed bugs?
                  Did the last hotel have bed bugs?

     French - J'espère que mon backpack à dos n'est pas infestée.
                   I hope my backpack is not infested.

     Spanish - El médico me dijo que esta rash puede ser contagioso.
                    The doctor said this rash may be infectious.

     Bath is architecturally stunning. The ruins of the Roman thermal baths are better than expected. Hot mineral waters, estimated to have fallen as rain in the nearby mountains 10,000 years ago, percolate up from the ground to fill the pools. The water is a milky jade, dense with the cast off dead skin of the ancient Romans. I imagine layers upon layers of exfoliated epithelium are encrusted with the minerals on the sides of the bath, an archeological goldmine.



     More evidence of Roman occupation was found at the bottom of the hot springs — curses written on flat little pieces of lead were folded up and thrown into the baths. The small notes implored the deities to wreak havoc on those who had wronged them, as if poisoning the waters with lead wouldn't be enough.
     In my pocket I have a wadded up silver wrapper from a Wrigley's Double Mint gum, not lead but it would do. On it, I scrawl a curse to train lady. I am not Roman, so I channel my English roots for a more fitting curse—

         If it's not too much trouble, could you make her tea tepid..
I neatly fold my masterful curse, The Dead Skin Sea Scroll, and prepare to toss it in to the bubbling spring. But sadly, my Seattle roots won't allow me to litter, so the woman goes unpunished.
   We leave the ruins in search of dinner. The streets in Bath all look alike. Fortunately, I don't have to pay attention as I've brought my navigator, Dan. His brow wrinkles and he scowls at the street signs. 
   "Are we lost?" I ask.
   "Nope."
   "Are you sure?" 
   "Yep,"he says, " I got it
     I look up, and written on the corner window across the street is a sure sign that we are lost, lost and about to be arrested for trespassing 




—Hair and Beauty zone.
 Earlier today Dan spent an exorbitant amount of money on two maps at ye old antique map shop. That's not the exact name but you get the gist. For quite a bit less he could have bought and up-to-date map and we wouldn't be in this predicament. As always, Dan gets his bearing and leads us, as always, to a French Bistro.

     London and Bath are great, but fearing a bad case of the rickets, we plan our departure. Rickets — it sounds like an STD, something you might catch whilst performing unnatural acts on wicker furniture. It's not. It's a softening of the bones. No, not 'the bone' you perv', the bones with an s. It's cause — vitamin -D deprivation from the inability to have a pint in a sunny beer garden. So, we hop on a train and head for the beaches at Lands End -St Ives.
-----

Highlights thus far - definitely the people and the food. The locals at the Pulteney Arms  pub were some of the most welcoming, engaging, entertaining, clever people I've ever met. Thanks Bath Locals



Low point - The moldy dungeon like bathroom 





Tuesday, October 9, 2012

BRITISH AIRWAYS

Travelogue -British Airways




 With a mellifluous hello from the British Airways attendant, our nine-week, epic, between jobs vacation is underway. The Brits reek of culture and class, so this I know is going to be a top notch ride across the pond. I strap in and click on the in-seat tele for my first big growth experience. Could be a Midsummer Night's Dream, maybe a little Harold Pinter, but instead I settle for a classic — Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Little known fact, Abraham Lincoln was the first person to wear a long black trench coat and perform jujitsu-like moves while manipulating the space time continuum, not Keanu Reeves. And unlike Mr. Reeves, Abe did it wielding an axe. 

With the help of British Airways, I've reached Stage One Travel Enlightenment (Cultural Enrichment) before I've even set foot on foreign soil. I'm congratulating myself on my travel prowess when I hear the man seated behind me sniffle. As soon as I hear the sneeze, I start my time-space-manipulation maneuvers. Shoulders round into a hunch. Head tucks. But before I can completely position my body into the least available surface area on which incoming can land (fetal position), I feel a cold mist wash across my neck and a single large droplet on my left wrist. Had I a long black trench coat this would not be happening. I abscond to the loo to disinfect.

I spend the remainder of the flight low in my, seat collar up and sleeves pulled. We land 
and I bolt as fast as I one can bolt from row 42 of a crowded plane. "Cheerio," says the handsome attendant as I make a break for Heathrow. (Cheerio — British for fair the well newly-infected traveler.)