England 2007

November 30, 2008

In the autumn of 2007, over lunch at Boom Boom Mex Mex, I was telling friends about my nephew’s wedding in England. One of them asked if the bride and groom live in England, and I said no, they live in Japan. And she said, “Of course.”

Any number of people have asked me how the wedding came to be in England, and while there is an explanation involving the costs of a formal wedding in Japan and friendships in England, all one really needs to know is that it was a lovely choice. I didn’t plan to go at first, was going to send best wishes, look forward to photos. But then Sean asked me to read one of the lessons, in a 600-year-old Anglican church in Kent, the same lesson, as it turned out, that was read when Laurie and I married, and I couldn’t say no.

Laurie had just returned from a trip to England and the Chelsea Flower Show, a last fling while her sister was still living in Bristol, and she was traveled-out, so I flew solo. Getting there would require my big boy pants. DNA-wise, I am generally of the school of “pick me up at the airport and drive me around.” But years ago I met a man named Rod Tolley who would actually appear at your door, traveling from England, by using things like public transportation. It was a revelation to me, that you could do that. And so I’ve tried to emulate his cool, his savoir faire, his independence, when traveling. With mixed results, but on this occasion I knew the language, sort of, and the Web has everything, right down to the train schedules, and so I pretended I knew what I was doing and it actually worked.

:: The Flight ::

My friend Roland advised me to fly British Airways and pay for the World Traveler Plus upgrade, another 7 inches of foot room and one less seat in the row. “Your butt will thank you,” he said. He was right. I did ask what the cost for First Class was, and the answer was $8000. I like to lie down as much as the next person, but I prefer to get there gently rather than faint when the VISA bill arrives, so I sat up and liked it, especially with enough leg room to stretch out, cross my legs, the things you can’t do in coach.

On my right was an individual who had purchased a seat with extra room more out of necessity than luxury; when she placed her arm on her armrest, there was a certain amount of rollover; I surrendered gracefully. It wasn’t a bad flight; I dozed, I read, I found myself at Heathrow.

:: The Bus ::

I had just two carry-on bags, so I walked quickly, gratefully, to customs, breezed through and found my way to the bus that would take me to Victoria Station in London. At the bus station, I got a bonus when I bought a bottle of water: a free copy of The Independent. British newspapers are justly famous for the quality of their obituaries, and I was delighted. That day’s paper also included a quote from Virginia Woolf’s diary, an entry from September 6, 1939, which bode well, as one of my goals for the trip was to spend some time with her spirit in London. I also enjoyed the waste cans, which were marked, “LITTER.” How direct.

The bus ride went from boring to magical as we drew closer to London; at first there were just roads to watch. Magpies were checking out the roadside litter; while crows are the self-appointed sorters of the the trash bins in Thayer Park, this post in England is claimed by the magpie, a black & white relation of the crow and a much better-looking bird all-around. I saw Coca-Cola cans, water bottles, cigarette butts and a glove. Lost gloves seem to be universal.

London was pretty much as I’d left it in 1983, my favorite city in the world. We passed Hyde Park, the Wellington monuments, Harrods, side streets with wonderful buildings, every one a cookie for the mind. I was on architectural overload.

:: The Train ::

I had imagined that the bus to Victoria Station would go to Victoria Station, but instead it pulled into a garage a block or so away; inside the garage, a small sign said, “Victoria Station” with an arrow pointing to the left. I took a left, walked down a small lane and came to a busy street. There were no more signs, and lots of buildings. I chose the largest one; it looked like a shopping mall, but it turned out there were trains inside as well as stores. In the ticket line, I saw a pretty girl with purple shoes and a trumpet case; I felt like I was inside the Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”

A cordial gentleman in uniform directed me to the appropriate train, and I was bound for Canterbury. On the way out of London I saw lots of graffiti on the stone walls along the tracks; my favorite tag was “SINUS.” There’s a signature for you.

:: Canterbury ::

Once in Canterbury, I asked directions to the Cathedral, which was kind of stupid because you really can’t miss it. It would be that enormous cathedral in the middle of the town. I had booked a room at the Cathedral Lodge, right on the grounds, and although it was too early to check in, they did let me drop off my bags. I went out to explore Canterbury, saving the Cathedral for the afternoon. What I really wanted was a restful place in which to have lunch, and for the first time in a long time, a proper pint.

For various reasons, I had not had a beer since October of 2004, but this was England and I was throwing caution to the late summer winds. I found my way to the Pilgrims Hotel. Fifteen of the patrons had white hair, but it was a blonde barmaid named Inga who led me to a table. Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was playing, but softly. I ordered sausage & mash, and a Greene King IPA. The pint came first; I took a deep breath and dove in. It was as though we’d never been parted, I and this nectar, a deliciously hoppy ambrosia. Then the bangers arrived, draped with beets and caramelized onions. I can recall few other times in my life when I have been so happy.

In a letter, Virginia Woolf once wrote, “There is no lovelier place in the world than Canterbury… that I can say with my hand on my heart.” Indeed, it was lovely. Walking in Canterbury, I came upon the local library, a great ark of a building. It was the gift of a wealthy benefactor, and it reminded me of the Skaneateles Library with its Barrow Gallery. Except here, the art gallery was on the upper floor and went by the more elevated title of The Royal Museum and Art Gallery. All by itself, the old building was worth exploring, but the gallery, up a grand staircase, was filled with surprises. An exhibition of teapots (ah, England), a room devoted to military history, and in one room, in a corner, one of the most arresting paintings I’ve ever seen.

It was tall, almost as large as its subject, a girl in a dark hat and coat standing at a white door, about to turn the doorknob. Not the stuff of epic romance, but I couldn’t leave it. It cast a spell and I was caught. When I did manage to leave, I came back again. I don’t remember anything else in the room. The painting was titled The Little Girl at the Door, and the artist was Harriet Halhed (1851-1933). She was born in Australia, but came to England and studied in Canterbury at the Sidney Cooper School of Art, at the Royal College of Art in London, and then in Paris under Louis Henri Deschamps. She returned to Canterbury where she painted, taught, and occasionally did sketches of sculptural details at the Canterbury Cathedral for the Kent Archeological Society.

One of her pupils, Janet Forbes, described her thusly: “She wore strange, homespun, loose, sacklike clothes… girded herself with embroidered and studded belts and clasps and chains from Bulgaria, donned little Finnish fur hats, and beads from the Andaman Isles.” This was a woman my Aunt Rhea would have enjoyed. Historical sources list both Foresters’ Hall in Canterbury and Sevenoaks, in Kent, as places where she lived or worked; in 1897, she went to London, where her studio was behind a Chelsea pub called “The Magpie and Stump,” which often furnished lunch for the artist and those she taught.

The Little Girl at the Door was exhibited in 1910 at the Royal Academy in London and at the Paris Salon, and 20 years later was presented to The Royal Museum & Art Gallery by 16 of her former students. There is little about the artist on the Web, just enough to offer a glimpse of a fascinating woman and a fascinating painting. I’d love to know more, but I need to be grateful that our paths crossed at all.

Out on the streets, I saw a Goth, an old street-person with Tourette’s, many young art students, two tattoo parlors, and a post office that included a stationery store where I bought a pen just because I could.

Then the Cathedral, the center of the worldwide Anglican communion of which I have been a member for the past three or so years, the scene of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1170, the destination of Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, a house of stone alive with faith and history: a stained glass window from 1176, towers completed in 1130, 1405 and 1498, tombs, memorials, stonework as delicate as lace, soaring arches, too much for me to take in.

I felt a special connection with the tomb of the Black Prince, Edward, Prince of Wales, who died in 1376. At the foot of his gilded effigy, also in effigy, lies his dog. This I understand.

I spent the afternoon wandering in the Cathedral, checked into my room, and then went out for dinner at The Miller’s Arms, a lovely local I’d found online before my trip. I ordered a pint of Shepherd Neame’s Masterbrew and took in my surroundings. On a rafter was chalked a quote from Herb Caen, San Francisco’s famed writer, which read, “Like a camel, I can go without a drink for seven days ­ and have on several horrible occasions.” I ordered fish & chips, and settled in, listening to Bryan Adams’ “Cuts like a Knife.” At the largest table, a group of young people gathered. The young men were talking about wireless communication for laptops, and the young women were talking about bra straps. One of the women said to one of the men, “I’ve never seen you without your laptop and I’ve never seen you without that t-shirt.” I envied them their youth.

Another couple sat by the window, not speaking, he with a pint, she with a glass of wine. Then they left; outside, they took one another’s hand and began talking as they walked.

I headed back towards the Lodge, passing by a nightspot which promised lap dancing, kind of an odd touch in Canterbury, but this was 2007. Almost at the gates of the Cathedral grounds, I was drawn into The Old Buttermarket, where I ordered a half of Adnam’s Broadside and listened to the Pointer Sisters sing “Jump.” I chatted with an older man at the bar who had many tattoos on his arms. He had done most of them himself with a needle, when he was “young and foolish”, but he had one “paid for,” which he showed me, a tribute to his son who was murdered.

The Cathedral’s bells were ringing when I passed through the gates. It was twilight, and halfway up the bell tower one could see a window, a yellow rectangle of light, and the bell ropes, going up and down, and at the top of the rope’s rise,a glimpse of the hands of the bell ringers. I sat on a low wall and watched and listened. A young woman with a bicycle sat next to me. We exchanged smiles. Runners passed in front of us, young and swift, and one of them said, “I love coming through here at night.”

Nearby, an older woman among a group of pilgrims expressed displeasure that young people in shorts and t-shirts would dash through the grounds, but their guide, smiling, said, “It is what it is.”

The next morning, I breakfasted at the Lodge, noticing the availability of rhubarb yogurt; if only Laurie had been with me. I went across to the Cathedral for a communion service in one of the small chapels. I was early, and could hear singing from another service echoing through the Cathedral, like Gregorian chant, ancient cadences, and everywhere, the smell of stone, damp stone. It gave me chills, good ones. The communion service was lovely.

Before leaving, I spent more time nosing around. I visited the tomb of William Courtenay, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1381 to 1396, whose effigy also included his dog at his feet. And a tomb that asked, “Stay gentle reader, pass not slightly by this tombe…” I think that one belonged to Thomas Thornhurst of The Buffs Regiment, buried in the Warriors’ Chapel. I visited the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time. Among them, Jonathan Daniels, a student at the Episcopalian Theology School of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who went south as a civil rights worker in 1965 and was shot by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama. Daniels was trying to buy a bottle of soda after being released from jail; the deputy, who was armed with a shotgun, shot Daniels in the doorway of the store and then shot a fleeing priest in the back. The priest survived, but Jonathan Daniels joined Thomas Becket. (The deputy plead self-defense and was acquitted by a jury of his peers.)

I hated to leave, the Cathedral and Canterbury, but I had come to England for a reason, and needed to be on my way. At the train station, I sat next to an African warrior, perhaps a young prince, in full array. Together we watched young people on the opposite platform, bound for the seashore, sketching and painting while waiting for the train. The warrior turned to his companion and said, “They are art students?” And his companion said, “Yes.”

:: Ashford ::

After another ride through the beautiful Kentish countryside, I got off at Ashford and took a cab to The Conningbrook, a hotel where the wedding party was assembling. The lovely Janine was at reception, and checked me in. I asked her for directions to a pub; she said, “We have a pub right here.” And I said, “I want a walk.” She said, “There’s nothing close,” and I said, “I walk four miles a day,” and she brightened, “In that case…” and gave me directions to The Flying Horse Inn in Boughton Aluph. We had a temporary British//American language difficulty because she said that on parts of the road there was no pavement. I couldn’t see what that had to do with me, until a third party told me “pavement” was their word for “sidewalk,” and that I would have to walk in the road. I said I would cope.

It was a lovely walk through the small town and out into the country. British litter was a nice change of pace. I noted the names: Mayfair, B&H, Fontana, Richmond and Hamlet cigarettes all bearing messages like SMOKING KILLS and SMOKING CAUSES AGEING OF THE SKIN and SMOKING SERIOUSLY HARMS YOU AND OTHERS AROUND YOU. I also saw the head of a hair brush, a glove, cans that once held Pepsi, Stripes Cola (“a taste of America”), Carlsberg, Foster’s Lager, Red Bull and Mars Recharge, wrappers from Snickers, Quavers, and Fox’s Glacier Mints (“made with natural mint oil”), and an empty green pack of RIZLA+ rolling papers.

At the end of my walk, the Flying Horse beckoned, right across the road from a cricket green. The groundskeeper had mowed a path from the green to the pub. How civilized. I began my lunch with a Courage Best Bitter, and ate a Ploughman’s Lunch at a picnic bench outside. I especially enjoyed the conversations of a young workman and his colleagues, and a table of office workers. Bits of conversation came my way: “He’s a pleasant old boy… he’s a bit of a pervert.” One of the workmen asked another to call one of their clients; “She won’t answer my phone, mate,” he added. The barmaid came out with the young workman’s dessert and two spoons, and said, “Can I have a little try?” Yes, she could.

It was time for me to go; I put on my backpack and began walking to the cricket green when I heard my name called, clearly; I turned around and there was my nephew-in-law, Jeff Thompson, hanging out of the window of a moving taxi and waving both arms. Jeff and my brother, Kent, had spent the day before in London, and were just arriving in Charing, and had tracked me down. Jeffrey, in or out of a cab, is the world’s best traveling companion, always interested, always smiling.

And so it was back into The Flying Horse for another pint, this one a Fuller’s London Pride. In the ‘loo, I used some of my new British coins to purchase a condom; the machine promised a variety of flavours, including a lager & lime (!), but alas, the flavour was not stated on the package. It did, however, bear images of bananas, strawberries, grapes, oranges and pineapples, and I was delighted by its festive appearance. This was a happy condom.

We took a taxi back to the hotel to discover that Janine had a twin sister, the activities director, and that they loved photographs. No wonder. My brother, who was functioning as the official photographer, captured an image that narrowly missed being on our 2007 Christmas card.

Upstairs, I turned on the TV in my room and watched Sophie Ellis-Bextor performing for an adoring crowd at a seaside resort. She was magnificent.

Dinner that evening was at the Conningbrook. At some point, I was having a conversation with Lyle, my nephew’s best friend, also in from Tokyo. Sean and Lyle went to school together in Lockport, New York; Lyle’s journey had taken him to Princeton, and then a teaching position at a private school in Switzerland, before moving on to Japan, where he met his spectacular English wife. I don’t recall the subject of our conversation but it may have veered into the academic or the esoteric, because at one point, Jeff said, “You know, I have no idea what you guys are talking about, but I’m enjoying it very much.”

The next morning, Kent, Jeff and I went for a walk through some parks and soccer fields, then back to the hotel to get spruced up for the wedding. A mini-bus took us to the church in Charing, a village about the size of Skaneateles, only a shade older.

:: The Wedding ::

St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s is in the heart of the village, and is said to contain the stone on which John the Baptist was beheaded. I missed the stone, but would love to go back and track it down. The west tower of the church is more than 600 years old; the rest of the church was rebuilt in the 16th century after a fire. If the churchyard isn’t haunted, the ghosts are missing something. Before the wedding ceremony, I discussed with the rector, the Revd. Philip Cox, where I was going to pause to acknowledge the altar, where I was sitting, etc. I wanted to hit my marks.

It was a privilege to be a part of the wedding, and it all went along swimmingly. John West did the Old Testament reading; I did my bit from Corinthians. The maid of honor, Charm-Hee Kim, in from Korea, read from Tuesdays with Morrie and then “The Eskimo Love Song”:

You are my husband, you are my wife
My feet shall run because of you
My feet dance because of you
My heart shall beat because of you
My eyes see because of you
My mind thinks because of you
And I shall love, because of you.

Everyone in the room was genuinely happy. The choir sang, there was a brief but perfect homily, vows were exchanged and the bride and groom were radiant. John West said to me, “Your reading was spot on,” one of the most treasured compliments I have ever received.

From the receiving line, we walked up the lane to the West’s backyard garden (a perfectly English backyard garden) for champagne, then off to The Bowl Inn in the minibus for the reception.

A wedding reception at a pub: the mind reels at the beauty of the idea. And the Bowl Inn (a pub since 1606) was a perfect pub for the occasion. I had canapes with Stilton cheese and apricot, mushrooms and tarragon, a pint of Adnam’s, and then the Ferret, a lovely ale that held my loyalty for the remainder of the day. I had a steak and kidney pie as well, and a tour of the pub’s cellar with the owner, Alan Paine; the tour was arranged by my brother who knew I’d love to see the cellar.

The barmaids could not believe anyone would want to see the cellar. With their laughter as a musical accompaniment, I descended into the small cool confines and gazed lovingly upon the kegs and tubing.

Above ground, you couldn’t fault the conversations. There were guests from Tokyo, Seoul, Majorca, the UK and the US. It was one of the most interesting and cheerful crowds I’ve ever been in. Out in the garden, I had a short chat with Simon West’s son Taiyo, who lives with his father and artist mother on Majorca. I started with English but had better luck with Spanish, as I am a toddler in that language as well.

After the reception, we re-boarded the minibus and as we motored back to the Conningbrook, the Japanese-speaking contingent sang a children’s song:

Kaeru no uta ga
Kikoete kuru yo
kwa kwa kwa kwa
kero kero kero kero
kwa kwa kwa

(This is the frog song
listen please
croak croak croak croak
ribbit ribbit ribbit ribbit
croak croak croak)

They also favored us with the Japanese versions of “Doe-a -deer” and “Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree.” The English-speakers replied with the theme song from The Flintstones. We were merry travelers.

The party continued at the Conningbrook (and the next day would proceed to an aerodrome for flights in a vintage trainer), but I had committed myself to catching the earliest train to London, my favorite city in the world. Siena gives it a run for my money, and really, I barely know either city, but when I’m there, I feel like I’m home, home in some place really magical.

:: Back to London ::

I wanted to be in London in time for church; I wanted to worship in one of the oldest churches in the city, and soak up a little history. At Charing Cross station, I looked at the map, and it seemed much too short a walk to the hotel to bother with a cab, and who wants to be in a cab when you can be walking in London? So I shouldered my bag and off I went, walking up to Bloomsbury through Covent Garden, past the Marquess of Alesbury where Laurie and I had dinner and a pint, well, two pints, in 1983, down wonderful streets, gaping at the buildings, the architecture, the human touches.

I was too early to check in at the Russell Square Hotel. I booked there because we’d stayed there in 1983, and I knew where it was. In 1983, everyone on staff was English. This time, everyone appeared to be from either Eastern Europe or India. But they were all very nice. I left my bags with the concierge and went in to have a full English breakfast and a pot of tea. It was brutally expensive and very, very good.

Then off to church; I went in circles until I got my bearings, and I arrived as the bells were ringing for the service. St. George’s of Bloomsbury was built between 1716 and 1731. Anthony Trollope was baptized there in 1824. In 1913, the church was the scene of the funeral of Emily Davison, a suffragette who was trampled by King George the Fifth’s horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby. (She had stepped onto the turf course with a suffragette banner during the race; since she had a return ticket to London, it was believed that she was intent on a protest rather than martyrdom.) So here I was in a pew in 2007. You can’t sit anywhere in London without being nudged by history. It was a very sparse congregation, with a few visitors, a very subdued service, and scaffolding from ongoing restoration work around the outer walls, not quite as magical as Canterbury.

I had a list of things to do in London. I was an idiot for making Sunday my London day, because so many things were closed, including the theaters, but there was more than enough to do. One of my first stops was the British Museum, just a short walk from Russell Square. My grand-nephew Jacob’s interest in chess has rekindled my own, and I was headed for Room 42 and the Lewis Chessmen, some of the oldest chess pieces in the world. Much has been written about them, so I won’t repeat it all here, but they are the oldest complete set of chess pieces yet found, carved from walrus ivory and whale bone, possibly Norse or Icelandic, dating from around 1100 AD. There are several examples of each piece, but it is the queens I love.

Usually, in a figurative set, the queen is regal, icy, beautiful – all appropriate to her position as the most powerful piece on the board. But chess is a game of war, and a king must die, and the Lewis queens seem to know that. They fear what their husband might do next, how goes the battle, if they are to be widowed or die themselves. They are not artificially beautiful, but human, the robes and crown failing to hide weight and age, one hand touches a worried face, another clutches an ale horn. They cannot put the vessel down or it will spill; they must hold it until it is empty. The struggle draws closer; the end is near. Which king will die?

Back out on the streets, I walked across Russell Square to the Hotel Russell, checked in and then set out again, this time for The Lamb on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a pub that hosted Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Kinglsey Amis and the Queen Mum, although not at the same time. The pub is a shrine to entertainers of the 1800s and early 1900s, with vintage photos of scores of people famous in their day, and a few I recognized: a very young Billie Burke before success took her to America, and to Oz as Glinda the Good Witch, and Fats Waller, whose music carried him across the Atlantic in the other direction. Their framed pictures line the walls; the bar is in the center of the room, and what a magnificent bar, carved wood, cut and frosted glass, pivoting privacy panels. I had fish & chips and a pint of Young’s Ordinary, and raised my glass to Michael Jackson, the beer writer who had died in London just a few months earlier, a gentleman I had the good fortune to know, and who I had hoped to see on this trip.

While I sat, soaking up the glory of the room, a man at the bar dropped some coins. As he bent to pick them up, another man said, “No need to bow. A simple curtsy will do.” I had a feeling it was not the first time he’d used that line.

My next stop was The Queen’s Larder (named for Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, who kept food in the cellar here for her husband, when he was being treated nearby for madness), a pub with framed theater posters and a sign that read, “Well behaved dogs are always welcome.” I had a Greene King IPA and missed my dog. The trip to Queen’s Square had brought me into a neighborhood of many hospitals, a place set aside, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “for the alleviation of all hard destinies.” In a small park, a woman walked her ailing husband in the sunlight; outside The Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, a little boy in a wheelchair coughed the cough of an elderly man, and his father leaned over and said, “Would you like some juice?”

I circled back to the British Museum, to see the chess pieces again, to burn them into my memory and, of course, pay homage to the gift shop and the mummies, who made me thirsty. I had been limping from heel pain most of the day, and felt the need to medicate with ale. This time, I sought relief at The Museum Tavern on Great Russell Street, a paradise of old wood, frosted glass, stained glass windows, pressed tin ceiling, old lights, mirrors, flower baskets, and faded drapes of maroon, green and gold. Past patrons include J.B. Priestley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Karl Marx. I had a pint of Tim Taylor’s Golden Best, “the last of the true Pennine light milds.” It was glorious, perhaps the loveliest pint of my visit.

Four people at a nearby table talked about business. A couple, Americans, were trying to sell an Englishman and a man from somewhere in Eastern Europe on a deal that was presently held up in the courts. The American man brushed the legal question aside with a literal hand wave, mumbling assurances of the matter’s speedy and inevitably successful conclusion. There was also a question about there being no real collateral for the investment, and the American again fell to making assurances. I had a hundred Euros on me, but it was staying in my pocket.

On the way back to the hotel, I walked through the streets around the University of London; I saw a young woman in a Bart Simpson t-shirt; it was apparently the British version: Instead of “Bite Me” it said “Lick Me.” I did not recall young women being so forward when I was in college.

I retired early, and decided not to eat dinner, instead opting, again, for the Hotel Russell’s gigantic English breakfast buffet the following morning. Suitably fortified, I set out for Gordon Square, where I sat across the way from Virginia Woolf’s residence, number 46, where she lived from 1904 to 1907. I communed with her spirit and listened to the crunch of English gravel as people cut through the park on their way to work.

While out, I saw a great many handbills for prostitutes; each one included a color photo of a nearly nude woman said to be the individual you will be paired with if you call the telephone number given. I should think this is doubtful in the extreme, but I did enjoy the writing. The “Sexy Senorita” or “Naughty British Schoolgirl” promised “All Services” (which probably covers more ground than I can imagine), welcoming particulars like “Bubble Bath” and the comforting “No Rush.” These bills were mostly posted in telephone booths, whose walls appeared papered with them, but they made their way to the sidewalk as well where they mingled with the mint wrappers. I’ve seen nothing like these in Skaneateles; perhaps it’s because we have no phone booths.

After a quick trip to Waterstone’s bookstore on Gower Street and some window shopping at a store that sold canes and umbrellas, I made my way back to the hotel and a cab that would take me to the airport. There are cheaper ways to get there, but I was bone tired.

My driver was a lovely man who told me that he was a Jew from the island of Moishe, north of Madagascar, who sought to glorify God in all that he did. At his request, we stopped at a gas station so he could relieve himself. He returned the car and said, “I must have been holding one liter.” I liked this man very much.

:: One Carry-On ::

At the airport, I was greeted with the news that only one carry-on could be taken through security. I was not going to check a bag. Instead, I emptied my smaller bag, stuffed its contents into the larger, then crushed the smaller bag itself and stuffed it too inside the larger bag, and took my place in line. I was not worried about wrinkles at this stage of the journey.

On the other side of Security, I bought tea and chocolate at a Harrod’s stand, repacked my bags into two units, and flew home. I ran out of vacation time somewhere over the Atlantic, but it had been worth it. Totally, totally worth it.



  1. I was acquainted with Sean – he was actually my designated “mentor” as a new arrival working with him at the California Language School in Kamagaya-Diabutsu, Chiba. I unearthed a group of pics recently from the day he took me into central Tokyo in July 1995, got extremely nostalgic as i always do when i reminisce for more than a few moments about my superb 3 years in Japan, and set about trying to find Sean in cyberspace. Reading this is the end of that short story, and i read every one of your words above with enjoyment; but i would like to contact Sean and send him the pics with a brief hello, and am hoping you can assist.
    Do you have an email address for him?
    Kind regards,
    Chris Morello (c.morello@icloud.com)

    1. Chris, I sent your note and address on to Sean. He is well and thriving, and I trust he will be in touch with you soon.

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