Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Quick Reckoning Before We Leave for the Fifth Continent in Six Months

In no particular order:

10 flights in 3 weeks is a lot of time in the air, and almost as much time in airports. They took my picture on the way to Guernsey (which is not legally a full-on part of the UK although they accept the Pound Sterling . . . and give you change in Guernsey pounds which are only accepted in—you guessed it—Guernsey [or banks—thanks A&F for being my last-minute bank]). Also on the way to Guernsey, I sat next to a hot young kid who, it turns out, was a rugby player coming in to help the Guernsey team in some game the next night—his name was in the Guernsey paper we all received when we sat down. I later saw him stuffing the paper into his duffle bag, a slightly embarrassed grin on his face.

The last day in Cabo Verde we wandered around the Sucupira Market, which is quite pleasingly Third World with its warren of stalls and vendors selling cheap and/or used clothes, shoes and flip flops, African cloth, tools and housewares and personal care supplies, and also services—a tailor, a cobbler, hairdressers. Somewhere in the middle I stepped on a little round-headed thumbtack, which came right into the bottom of my Keens sandals and poked, only enough to be annoying but not enough to break the skin, whenever I took a step. We left the market and sat down in the shade on a curb somewhere and tried to pry it out. A young Cabo Verdean came by and peeked at what we were doing; when he saw the tack, he jumped to concerned action, grabbing my sandal and loping off to a guy in a shop who had a key or something that wedged out the tack. I am embarrassed to admit that I was momentarily worried when he ran off with my shoe that he would keep it and I would have only one shoe . . . but then I realized that he, too, would have only one shoe, and a nasty, dirty, slimy, smelly, much-hiked-in one at that. In fact, I was lucky he didn't pass out from the sheer disgustingness before he was able to get it back to me, repaired and again very comfortable.

The one night we had in Lisbon happened to be a Saturday, and we had dinner at a small restaurant in the Alfama (one of the neighborhoods, charming, cobbled streets, I'd never actually been to this part of town before), at a restaurant where they happened to have live Fado, which is a uniquely Portuguese variety of music with guitar and singers, evoking soulful wistfulness and longing. The owner of the restaurant was a mostly jolly man who argued a lot with his wife, who seemed to be the one chef as he was the one server, but treated his patrons with friendly congeniality. At one point he went racing outside; a couple minutes later he came back with fresh rolls—so fresh that the one he threw at me on his way back to the kitchen ("no charge!") seared my fingers. I juggled it back and forth and pulled off hunks—the crisp crust and the moist, pillowy insides were the BEST. BREAD. EVER.

My hotel room in the Lincoln House Hotel in London: An awesome feat of engineering. The room was about 8 feet wide and maybe 12 feet long and included a double bed with fancy pillows, a desk, a coffee/tea/hot cocoa station with an electric kettle, a giant wardrobe, a sink, a miniature toilet-shower pod which appeared to be a boat bathroom cased in with wallboard, and a teeny fridge the size of a six-pack cooler. The bed was built purposely high so that you could store your luggage underneath. Very efficient. And only about $140 for a night.

Reading Winnie the Witch with six-year-old B: "Let's read Winnie," she says. "There are six stories in this book," I say. "Which one do you want?" "ALL of them!" says B, and that's what we read.

Sharing my Tarot cards (with parental support) with nine-year-old C, B's older sister. She may be a psychic in the making!

Hanging out at my home away from home in Portugal, with B and C and their parents, and cooking Gordon Ramsey's chocolate fondant cakes. YUM.

Hanging out in Tunbridge Wells with other old friends and their two boys—almost two and just three weeks—both of whom I got to meet for the first time. And such tasty home-cooked meals! And the bathroom at my B&B . . . which was large and comfortable and had a tub and a shower and a wall-length radiator-towel bar that I hung all my clothes on before I put them on in the morning (it was COLD in England, snowing almost every day I was there), but, strangely, not a single electrical outlet. The house wasn't that old, and there were lights in the bathroom—well, one light, connected to a loud, loud fan that didn't go off for 15 minutes after you turned off the light so I only turned on the light once the whole time I stayed there—but no outlets. Very strange.

Aside from in Cabo Verde, where I didn't check, free WiFi everywhere we stayed. It was all secured, though—in fact, all the WiFi my computer picked up on anywhere was secured. This was a BIG change from our 2007 trip, where pretty much nowhere had secured their wireless.

And, every stranger I encountered, anywhere, for any reason: friendly, talkative, nice. I don't remember people being outright rude to us in 2007 when we spent four months traveling in Europe, near the tail end of Bush's presidency, but now they are nice. Obama may not be the magician people were hoping for, but the fact of him is a huge boon to the image of Americans outside our country.

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