Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Travel Log


This Tuesday Morning...

March 31st

... we leave for Europe. As usual these days, when we travel, I will have my laptop with me and will be making entries in The Buddha Diaries as and when time and connectivity allow. I'm assuming it to be almost universal in this day and age. A year ago, I had little trouble getting online in Finland and Russia, so I imagine England and France will provide no obstacles. Still, you never know...

Anyway, I hope my blogging friends will stick with me. My entries may turn out to have more to do with family and friends, since that's the purpose of our visit, but I trust they'll continue to look at everything from my peculiar, quizzical, quasi-Buddhist point of view. I'll look forward to hearing from you when you're moved to comment, but will be visiting online friends less and responding less than usual. Good things to everyone!


Disorientation
April 2

Well, here we are, waking up in Cirencester, the heart of the Cotswolds in the south west of England, my home country. It’s so far in time and space—not to mention culture—from Southern California as to be thoroughly disorienting… Strangely, it does still feel like home to me, though I’m not sure I could ever live here again. Spoiled, perhaps, by the almost constant sunshine and temperate climate back in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach.

The journey was long, but relatively easy—until we reached Heathrow. We had used our credit card mileage to upgrade to business class for the flight, and were given nice pink “fast-track” cards to speed us through immigration. Turned out, when we reached the immigration hall, that the “fast “track” had one single, slow, impossibly officious man to cater to every first class and business passenger, as well as non-working United Airlines crew members, “deadheading” on this flight to be available to work on the return flight. At three to four minutes a person and with twenty people ahead of us, we watched the economy passengers speed through their slow track line while we stood there and waited.

Our complaints to the supervisors on the floor brought expressions of concern and visits to “the man upstairs”—who was presumably not “The Man Upstairs” or we could have expected a more sympathetic response. I suspect his was one of those Dickensian British bureaucrats who nurse a deep hatred for those they judge to be more fortunate than themselves and who, in this case, chose to take it out on the privileged business class passengers. He simply refused, according to our informants, to send in reinforcements.

I was frankly furious. I was actually quite nice to those who were trying, vainly, to help, but boiling inside as I watched the economy class line sweep by. Having paid for my “rights,” I now felt violated and abused to have them seized from me by some idiot upstairs who couldn’t be bothered to do the job he was paid to do. A good opportunity, then, to do some learning about myself—as Ellie was kind enough to keep reminding me, to my increasing fury…

We did eventually get out of immigration hell, found our bags awaiting us, and plodded our way through HM (Her Majesty’’s) Customs to where my sister was waiting patiently in the receiving line. (In fact, she wasn’t even in the receiving line, she had found a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while she waited.) A joy to see her, though, and we squeezed ourselves and our baggage into her little car for the drive back along the M4 to Cirencester.

A lovely drive. Green hills and fields and woods on either side, with banks of pale yellow primroses and deep yellow splashes of daffodils growing wild. We arrived at our destination late morning, having missed a night of sleep (it was still only 8PM Los Angeles time) and took a walk through this pleasant country town for a cup of coffee at the local center for arts and crafts.

More later, and pictures, I hope. This is getting long… We’re here. We had a good night’s sleep. There’s a good day ahead of us.


A Great Day in the Country...
April 3

… and a rotten night’s sleep. I observed last night a trick of the mind that I had not quite a put a finger on before. It’s not just the restless thoughts that keep me up—especially having traveled through eight time zones, also a contributing factor. What I noticed is that there’s a moment before sleep arrives when the mind says, “Aha, finally, sleep arriving,” and that does it. I’m fully awake again. And then the now wakefully conscious mind starts watching for that moment again, waiting for it this time, ready to pounce, wanting to know precisely when it is the waking ends and sleep arrives…

Ah, well, back to that great day, starting out with a good porridge cooked up by my sister (she uses root ginger, giving it a special flavor) and a while catching up with The Buddha Diaries. Then out to the country for a drive and an occasional stroll through a few of the less tourist-trodden Cotswold villages—some of the most beautiful you’ll find anywhere in the world, set in some of the loveliest landscapes...



... green, rolling hills where the sheep are now accompanied by the latest generation of tiny white lambs, peaceful woods with carpets of wildflowers, a calming, even light everywhere under the gray clouds, barely broken, here and there, by a glimpse of the sun. The stone construction—from tiny cottages to vast manor houses, farms and churches—is well known, of course, but nonetheless pleasing for the familiarity.






My intrepid sister did the driving, I the navigation, while Ellie sat in the back with our grand-nephew Hugo, nearly twelve and brilliant, an aspiring actor who already attends a celebrated school for the performing arts in London and is home on Easter break. He was not as impressed with the beauty of the Cotswold villages as we—perhaps because he lives in the middle of it all—but managed to brave the trip nobly. At one stop, the village of Elkstone, we ran into a charming, garrulous recent resident with a house in the shadow of the little church who had become passionate for her new environment and wanted to share her knowledge about everything from her own house, to her neighbors, to the church...




...and its history (without her we would have missed the narrow stairway leading up to the hidden priest’s hole); and even insisted on walking us down, past the village, to a wonderful green valley we would also otherwise have missed.

At our new friend’s recommendation, we found a nearby pub, the Five Mille House, for a good lunch and a whole lot of local atmosphere—both appreciated; and shortly after headed off to a point of interest I had noted on the map, Misardon Gardens, where we paused again for a good long stroll. The gardens were not yet, obviously, in full bloom, but they were full of promise, budding both with leaf and bloom—and extensive. I enjoyed especially the planned contrast between the carefully landscaped central sweep and the wilder, woodsy area off to one side.



A particularly lovely manor house, Tudor, I assume...



....lay at the far end of it all, with a gracious English lawn stretching far and wide in front of it and, to one side, an unusual, low-lying geometric water treatment in lichened Cotswold stone.

Home, then, in time for a later afternoon nap and the seven o’clock BBC news (the G-20 conference and its outcomes, quite encouraging) and off to dinner with friends of Flora’s in a nearby village. We found much in common. Fiona is the artistic director of a public gallery space in Cirencester and her husband, Piers, a science writer of note who’s central interest touches closely on the relationship between science and art. I was particularly fascinated by his huge and beautifully illustrated tome, “Invisible Worlds,” which explores the phenomenon of what is unseen to the human eye but revealed to us by new technologies. Fiona’s young son and daughter, both obviously creatively talented, were a delight to meet over dinner. Alma, the older of the two, is at art college in Nottingham, and brought out her I-Book to show me her latest project, in which she photographs staged scenes from Balthus paintings. An interesting idea, and beautifully executed.

Back home to Flora’s house much later than anticipated, and the kind of sleep that I described above—and hope not to repeat tonight.


Ah, England...
April 3

…what a lovely place! After that bad, jet-lagged night I described yesterday, I did well last night: bed at ten and up at six with just a few moments of wakefulness around 2PM. No repeat, thank goodness, of the previous night’s insomnia.

Once Ellie rejoined me in the land of the living—she slept late, lucky she—we made an excellent bowl of fruit and cereal and headed out to the town alone, leaving Flora to some much-needed catch-up time with her email. The fruit and vegetable market in Cirencester’s main street proved a less that inspiring affair, so we moved on to the Antiques Fair...



...in the neighboring Corn Hall—a building clearly renovated with an arcade of upscale shops, a hairdresser, and a fine restaurant.

Antiques Fair…? Not memorable, to our eyes, but fun to walk through. Here’s an amazing story, though: at the very last stall, as we were about to leave, Ellie pointed to a bracelet and exclaimed, That’s exactly like mine! Checking her wrist to prove her point, she found that hers was missing. She was sure she had put it on. Then it dawned on her: it actually WAS hers. Reluctant to appear to be stealing an object from the stall, we approached the owner with the bracelet to ask if it was a part of her merchandise. Well, no. It wasn’t. So it must have simply fallen off Ellie’s wrist when she reached out to examine something, and stayed there, looking for all the world as though it belonged amongst the antiques on display. A lucky thing that no one else had bought it! A lucky thing, too, that we had stopped back at the same stall on the way out. Curious, no?

For lunch, we returned to the Brewery Arts Center...



... where Flora had taken us the day before, and shared an excellent, fresh vegetable salad and a ham quiche. Then a stroll through town to the Earl of Bathurst’s park, where we followed the “River Walk”...



under beautifully blossoming trees...





... and alongside a mossy wall that Ellie particularly loved...





for a half mile before heading out into the open country for what must have been at least another mile. At the “Ewe Pens” farm and the good Earl’s Polo Grounds, we doubled back, this time through the woods filled with delightfully budding trees, to the top of the long, straight, formal parade...



... that leads beck into town. I’ll let the pictures tell the story better than I could.







Back home at Flora’s (this is her street...)



... Ellie wisely took an hour with her book whilst I had a long, welcome family chat with my sister. Then a delicious light dinner, the recorded BBC News, and an early night.


Dirty Vegetables, Bangers, and Crisp Fruit

April 4th

I won't bore anyone, today, with my jet-lagged sleeping habits. Enough to say that I woke refreshed and was delighted to find a clear, sunny day awaiting us. It was my sister's plan to take us to the Saturday market at neighboring Stroud, some thirty miles to the west of Cirencester, and we drove there taking a detour over the lovely Minchinhampton Common...



... a vast green stretch atop the hills where cattle wander free and locals come to enjoy what looks to be a rather less-formal-than-usual game of golf. From there, we drove down the long, steeply curving road into Stroud, with magnificent views across green, wooded valleys to the villages and towns beyond.

The parking lot at Stroud was crammed with vehicles, this bright Saturday, but we managed to find a place and wandered over to the market where we found the street lined on either side with stalls and shoppers busy loading up their bags and carts with locally-grown produce...



Remarkable to the American--well, to the Los Angelic eye--was that these vegetables--potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutagabas, turnips--had a very different look from those we find in our own markets, even the farmers' markets we frequent at home. We're used to nice, clean, freshly-scrubbed, evenly-shaped vegetables, with nary a spot of dirt on them. These had evidently been dug straight from the ground, crusty with mud, odd-shaped, and generally misbehaven.

It's become a truism, I think, that we in America have chosen to breed our vegetables for shape, size, color, texture--in a word, for the LOOK of them rather than for flavor. Having eaten, now, a few wonderful meals in England, we have been reminded of just how GOOD things taste. Once the mud's removed, even a simple carrot or potato has the distinctive taste of a carrot or potato. We have sacrificed something important in our eternal scramble to make things look acceptable to the eye.

A great market, then, in Stroud. Aside from the vegetables there were meats, cheeses, home-made chutneys and jams, cakes and pastries, breads...



We stopped to buy some honey on the comb, so neatly sealed that we thought we could bring it home. I was unable to resist the smell of bangers--English pork sausages, sizzling on the grill, served with mustard on a hearty wheat bun. I bought one to share, and instantly regretted not having been more greedy. I could have eaten the whole thing myself.



(My sister enjoys a surprise meeting with you-know-who!)

From the market we headed up into the center of town, where street musicians and performers of all kinds were busy entertaining the Saturday crowds. Stroud has the reputation, Flora tells us, for being a manget for those less bound by the social norms, alternative life-stylers of all kinds, and the shops and cafes seemed to bear that out. We stopped for a cup of coffee at a noisy cafe and enjoyed the bustle of its customers. Later, at a used book stand on the street, I came upon the battered copy of an old Scarlet Pimpernel book--one of my favorites from childhood--and bought it for a couple of pounds as a gift to my -great-nephew. I'd been telling him about the Scarlet Pimpernel just the day before...

On the way back to Cirencester, we stopped again in Minchinhampton, this time in the village, to try out a restaurant Flora had recommended, but we found it closed. An alternative, down the street, was open though, and we enjoyed an excellent lunch there....



Finding a sausage sandwich on the menu, I was able to indulge in the second half of what I had regretted missing earlier, sharing this time with Ellie. The home-made ice cream was also a delight.

Back in Cirencester, we rested up a while and began our packing--today, as I write this, early morning, is the day we leave for my son's place in Harpenden--before heading out to attend the opening of my niece, Charlotte's show...



...at the local arts center. A great display of photographs of fruit, as crisply realist as those Dutch painters of an earlier time, but almost surreal in their proximity to the lens, their simple frontality, and their sometimes odd relationship to the background.



I especially liked those images that verged from the realist into the painterly, where color itself took over from representational shape and became the fluid, shifting focus of the picture. Altogether, we thought, a fine accomplishment. Showing with Charlotte, in happy similitude, was an artist creating images of fruit in felt constructions, also quite beautiful and rich...

(A propos of nothing, here's a swan nesting at the river's edge behind the church. She seemed unfazed by our presence...)



And finally, another climax to the day... Flora had recorded the Grand National, the mother of all steeplechases and an annual ritual here in Britain, along with such events as the Derby and the Boat Race. Our nephew Hugo had arranged a betting game for all of us, and we watched the race not only with great entertainment and suspense, but also with some passion for our chosen horses. What a spectacular sight, to watch that charge of galloping horses, some forty of them at the start, take the fences like a great steaming tsunami of powerful flesh and muscle. Flora's horse won. Mine came in seventh. Ah, well...


The Family
April 5th

Can I introduce you to my family? We arrived here in Harpenden yesterday, and went for a long walk in the country. Here they are...

This is Diane, our beautiful daughter-in-law...



and our three grandchildren, Joe and Georgia and Alice...



... this is Matthew, proud papa...

... and Alice again, gymnasticizing...


... and Joseph, mugging for the camera, as usual (he's a great clown)...


... and Georgia, lollypopping...


... and Alice, who forgot to take off her bicycle helmet before going tree-climbing (not a bad idea, though, on second thoughts)...


... and Shamus, the cat....


Welcome to Harpenden!


More Country Views
April 6th

I suspect that Shamus the cat is cannily aware that he is about to be sent off to his cat hotel for a stay there whilst his family are in France. (We leave this afternoon to spend the week with Diane's parents near Montpellier.) I was the first down this morning, and on his somewhat noisy insistence treated him to a bowlful of the food I found on the laundry porch. He promptly rewarded me with a huge, foul-smelling throw-up on the carpet while I was trying to settle down to my morning meditation. I mopped up as best I could, and tried to open the French doors to the garden, to let out some of the offensive smell; but alas, the doors are locked, besides being bolted, with some fiendish device that clearly requires a special key which I was unable to find. I have taken refuge in the kitchen...



I'm wondering how much more of this beautiful English countryside you can take before yawning furiously and sneaking off to Daily Kos? I hope a little more. We drove out yesterday to the Ivinghoe Beacon, a high point in the Hertfordshire hills where you can see foe miles around. These hilltops were actually used, some centuries before the Internet, as a fast way to pass on news by lighting bonfires. Not sure how folks knew how to interpret the message in the fire, but that--to the best of my recollection--is how news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was spread.





(Joe's feeling the breeze. There was a stiff, cold wind at the summit. It felt a bit like Scott at the South Pole.)



Here's the family at a stile on the way back down...



... and Georgia, making a smiley face in the dirt in a recently ploughed field...



... and here's where we stopped for a picnic, by this fantastic climbing tree..



We stopped in the little town of Harpenden on the way home, with a visit to various stores to buy gifts for the children. It's always hard, at the distance we live, to know what to give them for Christmas and birthdays, so we have this annual ritual when we visit.

Matthew cooked up an excellent dinner. And here's the gang before bedtime...




En France
April 8th

We have been relocating. Left Harpenden on Tuesday morning, all seven of us piling into a taxi...




... with luggage. Quite a feat. Drove to Luton Airport, just north of Harpenden, and battled our way through check-in, immigration, and miles of underground corridor to our Ryan Air flight to Nimes.




Very cheap flight, but they get you on baggage charges, airport fees, and every imaginable incidental. Arriving in Nimes, we were impressed by the difference between French and English immigration officials, the French all laid-back, in rumpled uniforms--and all "bonjour m'sieur-'dame" and big smiles.

Once through immigration and bag claim, we were met by Diane's father, Leslie, who drove Ellie and me to our hotel in Palavas-les-Flots while Matthew waited in line for a minivan rental and drove his family back to Helena and Leslie's house in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone, not far from Palavas. (That "les" should have an accent grave--and old French word meaning "near"--not "les" as in "the."

Our hotel room is small but spotless, looking directly out over the beach to the Mediterranean. Very lovely, and a fifteen-minute drive to Villeneuve, where we drove for a buffet supper en famille. Helena had prepared a wonderful soup with homemade bread and multiple other dishes, which we enjoyed with a good Bordeaux wine. After dinner, Ellie produced her gifts for the family...



... baseball caps from Laguna Beach, which seemed much appreciated and enjoyed by all.

And back in good time for a read in bed and a comfortable night's sleep.

More later...


In Montpellier
April 8th

We woke in good time and had a pleasant breakfast in the hotel breakfast room--cafe au lait and baguette with butter and jam--before taking a walk around the city of Palavas. A cold day, with the hint of rain in the air, but only a very few, sparse drops of the wet stuff. Right behind our hotel, we found a busy street market with everything from meats to fruits and vegetables, and a few stalls with the kind of hand-made jewelry and leather goods you find almost everywhere in the world. We found a pharmacy, where I managed to put a few words of my very rusty French into practice, and strolled on down the quai-side where fishermen were selling their fresh catch; and stopped, on the way back to the hotel, at the little church of St. Pierre and another saint, whose name has slipped my mind, but whose enbalmed body we found in a glass casket near the back of the aisle. A somewhat gruesome reminder of that idolatry I find so foreign in the Catholic religion.

Matthew and family arrived to pick us up at eleven at the Hotel Le Brasilia. We spotted them from our balcony, and they us: here's the picture...


We joined them in their rented minivan and drove on t the outskirts of Montpellier. Rather than hassle the traffic in the city center, Matthew had wisely decided to take advantage of the excellent park-and-tram system to get into town, and after a short wait our spotless, colorful transportation arrived.. Here we are, boarding...


... and arriving at the city center in light rain...

From the tram stop, we walked up to the Place de la Comedie--its name taken from the elaborate theater at one end of the plaza, where now the opera company performs an ambitious repertory--and down a narrow street to the restaurant Diane had chosen for our lunch: the Brasserie au Theatre, or some such name. A fine restaurant, rather more elegant than we felt. Awaiting our meal, we spent a good while decorating the paper table coverings with the children. I taught Joe and Alice the game of "Boxes," while Georgie, up the other end of the table, composed sweet poems to Ellie and her mother. An excellent lunch, polished off for the most part with relish--and not the Heinz variety.

After lunch, we resumed our walk through narrow streets of old Montpellier, pausing at one small square with a church on one side and, on the other, a large building with a marvelous trompe l'oeil painting covering its entire facade: here are a couple of our "real" kids having fun with the larger, painted ones...


The city center of Montpellier is a maze of tiny. medieval streets...



... with everywhere wonderful small details to catch the eye...








The city also boast a good number of major public squares with grandiose buildings--churches and palaces--like this ancient medical school...


where Nostradamus studied. Montpellier, of course, has been famous as a center of medecine for many centuries, a tradition that continues to this day. Inside the reception hall of this building, we discovered lists of literally thousands in a single medical class, ordered numerically for their success in the qualifying exam. Interesting to note that numbers one and two--along with several of the high numbers, were women--something that would not have been likely fifty years ago, let alone five hundred. We progress. Too slowly, it seems sometimes. But we do progress.

Here's a view of the statue of Louis XIV, the rio soleil, whose Latin inscription Matthew and I spent some idle moments trying to interpret--I from my schoolboy Latin, even rustier that my French--he from his knowledge of language and etymology; and of the Montpellier Arc dde Trimophe. Behind is, in this picture, is the ancient Roman aqueduct, still in a great state of preservation--but unfortunately much obscured by a city restoration project...


A couple of other views of the city, this time more likely nineteenth century, I thought. It's great to be in a city where, from block to block, you can traverse ten centuries in a couple of hours' stroll!



We stopped, in the afternoon, for a cup of coffee and pastries at a sidewalk cafe, served by one of those angry French women who have little patience with tourists and are content to let it show. Snippy.

By this time everyone, notably me, was getting a bit tired, so we headed back slowly toward our tram stop. Here's Georgie with a purple balloon she found along the way...


... and Joe, on a final stop at the end of the day, enjoying a well-deserved carousel ride before we reached the tram.


Returning from our day-long expedition to the city, we enjoyed another buffet supper at Helena and Leslie's before returning to our hotel for a bit of blogging (this bit) and a read in bed.


Aigues-Mortes, and More...
April 9th

We started out the day with another walk around the streets of Palavas, ending up on thelong quai with a view back to our hotel (the blue one) ...



... and along the Marina, which proved to be much like marinas everywhere in the world: long lines of moored boats, mostly with silly names. What is it about boat lovers that draws them irresistibly to puns?


Since we're in the South of France, there was, of course, the occasional Van Gogh boat...



... or at least a boat of two in Van Gogh colors. And the odd King Charles spaniel, our dog George's breed...


... as we discovered by the fish stall. This one seemed less interested in the fish his human was buying than in some distant point of interest. This may explain why...


Some very odd fish in this region.

After a lesurely shower and some time to catch up with this narrative, we were fetched at our hotel and started out by for the ancient walled city of Aigues-Mortes. To get there, we found ourselves driving through the southern end of the Camargues region, famous for its wild white horses (did anyone see the film?) and its low-lying marsh and lake-land.


Here's a piece of Aigues-Mortes. The exterior wall is a magnificent piece of mostly medieval architecture and construction, a perfect rectangle with its longer sides, I'd guess, each a quarter mile long, and with towers at each corner and strategic points along the way. It was begun in the thirteenth century by Louis XI, Saint Louis, who was obsessed with grabbing Jerusalem back for Christianity from the Muslims, and led two distastrous Crusades which failed to achieve that end.

The center of the city built within the walls has become the perfect tourist trap. You can buy everything there from miniature, stuffed Camargues horses to computer games. I got taken away making abstract paintings with the camera, these two in a sweet and cookie store:



At the center of this commercial bedlam, we found a pleasant square with many sidewalk cafes surrounding a statue of the good Louis, a challenge for a score of kids to scale--well, at least the lower part. Here are ours...


We got Matthew and Diane to produce a rare pose for the camera...


After lunch in the square, we were ready for the long climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the main tower, from which we could see the battlements below...




From the tower, we found the path along the ramparts and made the tour of the entire city from this vantage point, with splendid views down over the roofs of the city...


A much appreciated stop for gelato (I chose chocolate and nougat) we returned to our cars--there are nine of us, with Diane's parents today--for a comedy-of-errors drive to the beach at L'Espiguette. After several wrong turns, we stopped on a side road and rang the security bell at a stranger's gate to beg for directions, and found we had headed in precisely the wrong one. Several hair-raising adventures later, we reached the famous beach and strolled out over its vast, sandy expanse to the edge of the Mediterranean...



By this time the weather, which had been kind to us thus far, had turned windy and cold, so our beach time was limited.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, then, we made a final stop at the "hypermarche," a supermarket plus, an acreage of commerce where you can buy everything from your groceries to TV sets and clothes.



Whilst Diane shopped for family necessities, Ellie bought some lovely tulips as a small thank-you gift for Helena, along with a tupperware container for the cookies we had acquired at Aigues-Mortes. Then we headed back to our hotel, with a lovely over-the-shoulder view of sunset over the Camargues.




Middle Earth
April 10th

Woke this morning to our first day of gray skies, thunder and lightning, and heavy rain. My telephone weather forecaster has been predicting rain every day of our trip so far, so we consider ourselves fortunate. Besides, it's quite beautiful, looking out from our hotel window...




Not quite the Mediterranean of your imagination, but lovely anyway.

Yesterday we took our longest trip, up into the mountains north of Montpellier, to visit the Grottes des Demoiselles--caves high in the mountains and deep underground, formed in the course of the millennia and spectacularly beautiful, as we shall see. But first a lunch stop at Laroque, a village a few kilometers north of our destination, to which the road led us along the river through a deep, rocky gorge...







Here's the medieval village of Laroque:




Our restaurant overlooked a bend in the river with a water race...



... where a heron came to fish...



A lucky picture, that last one. And here's a lovely tree of a kind I've never to my knowledge seen before, and whose name I don't know...


... near the entrance to the caves. The tram that usually takes visitors up the steep slope to the passageways that lead into the caves was on the blink, so we had first to negotiate a substantial number of steps alongside the tram tracks in order to reach the start point. The climb proved well worth the effort, though, as these pictures will show. The spaces inside the mountain are nothing short of amazing, cathedral-esque, with stalagtites and stalagmites of every conceivable form, some quite new and tiny, others more massive even than the redwoods of California. A part of the fun was finding images in the rock formations. I'll leave you to imagine your own from these pictures, which are hopelessly inadequate to express the grandeur of it all...








... except for this one, below, a statuesque form from which the caves take their name: this "demoiselle" is seen to be an image of the Virgin and child; she stands at the very center of the space that is called the "cathedral", surrounded by a multitude of architectural columns and, higher up, "organ pipes," and choral balconies. We hear that that they actually come here on occasions like Christmas to celebrate with song in the cave's extraordinary accoustics.


Here's one tired little boy on the way home...



... and two good-looking parents when we took them out to dinner to an excellent restaurant later in the evening.




Fine cuisine and excellent service at a table looking our over the beach and the sea... This will be our major culinary extravagance of the trip!


One Last Day in the South
April 12th

As noted yesterday, we awoke to a dramatic thunder-and-lightning storm over the Mediterranean, and the rain lasted the entire day—quite often in heavy downpours. We left the hotel, nonetheless, avec parapluie, and strolled over to where we had been told there was a regular Saturday marche aux puces (flea market.) Since flea marketing, no matter where in the world, is one of our favorite occupations, we were disappointed to discover only a desultory handful of people standing around and wondering whether the rain would stop. It didn’t. It didn’t even look as though it might.



Undaunted, we walked on further to what proved to be the trailhead for a bicycle path...


... that led out alongside the great, shallow lake that separates Palavas from the mainland. The rain for the time being was light and occasional, so we set out on the path and walked for a good half mile or more beside marshy wetlands...




.... rife with water birds, crossing a broad canal with a barge ...


... heading out for some unknown destination. Driving into Palavas, we had seen flamingos from the car, and I was hoping to find one or two to pose for my camera. Alas, they had chosen some other place to shelter from the rain, and there were only the egrets, ducks and moorhens that I could photograph just as well along the Los Angeles River. Too bad. But the walk was marvelous, scenic and refreshing.

We met up with the family for lunch at a restaurant across the street from our hotel. The last thing we needed, actually, was another of those twenty plus euro four-course lunches that seem to be the custom hereabouts: the menus offer little other than their “formules” for the day. We managed very well, though, with a simple salad with goat’s cheese and a glass of a good local white wine. Others went for the more elaborate menus—leading us to wonder where they find the appetite! Joining us for the occasion—and for the day—was Dick Cameron, a glaciologist of note from the U.S., a good friend of Leslie and Helena’s who had been best man at their wedding too many years ago to count! Here they are...


We enjoyed Dick's company, and learned a bit about his profession, at a time when his field has become one of the most vital for our common future.
The great debate at lunch, with the rain bucketing down, as Leslie likes to say, outside, was what to do after lunch. The planned trip to Sete, the famous seaside resort, seemed less than propitious, as did the long drive to other destinations that were proposed. We had hoped to visit the art museum in Montpellier, but even this involved a good long drive, parking problems, and a long walk through the rain. We opted instead for a nearby archeological museum at Lattes, which proved to be an excellent choice. We were amazed, not for the first time, by the skill and sophistication of ancient members of our human species, from prehistoric to Greek and Roman times.




There is something very moving in the spectacle of a lovely object conceived by the human mind and shaped by human hands—a connection and a sense of identity that we feel between ourselves and a distant brother or sister that is something much akin to love.

A small museum like this one is often just as enjoyable, for me, as the bigger, more encyclopedic variety like the Met or the British Museum. You do the whole thing comfortably in an hour or so, and leave with the feeling that you’ve pretty much covered it. From the third, top level of the Lattes Museum, there was a view out over the excavation area...


... from which many of the artifacts in the museum have been recovered, adding to the sense of intimacy. The whole area of Southern France was a hub of human activity, of course, during Roman days, and the museum certainly made it seem alive and present in our day and age.



From the museum, we drove back to Helena and Leslie’s for an hour or so with the remarkable family albums they have kept with such evident love and care from their earliest days together. We dined on excellent take-out pizza and a delicious endive salad. and left shortly after for the return to our hotel to pack for the journey, Sunday, to Paris.

I sit writing this text (for later posting) on the TGV—the Tres Grande Vitesse bullet train—looking out over a flat green landscape and recalling the last time I traveled this line. It was in 1948. I was twelve years old, traveling with a school friend of the same age to spend the summer holidays at their home in Barcelona. It was a long train ride, in those days, with a change in Paris. In the middle of the night, I was overtaken by the need to pee and searched desperately for an available WC. Finding none, and by this time unable to hold it any longer, I was forced to risk catastrophic injury by poking my little urinary apparatus out between those accordion-like passageways that used to connect old railway cars. A scary and embarrassing moment, remembered to this day with clarity—proving, at least, that I lived to tell the tale. Intact, to boot!


April in Paris...
April 12th

Ah, oui....!

Here's the TGV, shortly after our arrival from Montpellier at the Gare de Lyon...



.... and here's the Gare de Lyon...


And here's Paris in the Spring ...


We had blind-booked our hotel, but found it to be in a great location, on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Latin Quarter--at the scholarly end rather than the touristy end of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. A very comfortable room, looking out over the stub end of the cul-de-sac...


... and equipped with a tiny kitchenette, which will help us to avoid some of the outrageous costs of eating out at every meal.

Having received an invitation to meet with a friend-of-a-friend and to see her apartment, we called first thing, and walked back across the Boulevard St. Michel into the more famous--and busier--area of St. Germain, and spent a very pleasant hour of relaxation at the home of our new friend before heading out to the streets, with her expert--and, I have to add, passionate--knowledge of the district. Here's a few views:





We stopped in at the church of St. Sulpice for a glimpse of the Easter Sunday service, in progress, and a whiff of the incense, visible in the air...


A nice picture of Ellie and our friend and guide at the gates of the Ecole des Beaux Arts...


After parting our ways with warm thanks for her help, we wandered back along the Boulevard St. Germain and discovered a corner cafe for an early dinner. Here's Ellie, pensive...




... and Peter, up to his usual tricks. Bonsoir, tout le monde...!


Chestnuts in Blossom
April 13th

Well, getting there...


The chestnuts are not yet in full bloom--perhaps a little late this year. But no shortage of the pink stuff. We were taking pictures of Notre Dame cathedral through the blossoms when this kind lady...


... visiting from Ireland, stopped and offered to take one of us both together. Here it is:


Thanks, Jeanie! Beaucoup de walk aujourd'hui! Un peu trop, if you ask me. We started out from our hotel and walked down across the Bd. St. Germain to the river, and took the first brudge over to the Ile de la Cite, where we walked through the garden and beneath the above-mentioned blossoms to the cathedral square. We were determined NOT to take the regular tourist photo, but the facade proved so compelling, once again, that we had to stop and take it...



And on across the square toward the Palais de Justice and the Sainte Chapelle, where there was to be a concert in the evening to which we wanted to buy tickets. Stopped on the way for cafe au lait and a shared bread-and-butter tartine at a cafe that was absurdly expensive because of its location...


The ticket office at th Sainte Chapelle provided us with the usual French comedy of bureaucratic red tape, but we escaped unharmed--and armed with tickets--to make it to the far point of the island with a pause in the beautiful Place Dauphine. Sorry, no pictures of this delightful triangle--it's not really a square--but here's one taken from the embankment of the Ile de la Cite:


We had not intended on this, but the sight of a pedestrian bridge leading directly across the river into the Tuileries Gardens proved irresistible, and once there we found a place to sit and rest amongst the holiday crowds. Easter Monday is a day off work here in France, and a chance for citizens to get out into their beautiful parks and museums--which they do in great numbers. In the Tuileries, we found quite a number of public works of contemporary sculpture, including this interesting bronze recreation of a fallen tree...



Americans, too, were rerpesented, including thus Roy Lichtenstein...


... and a huge corten steel piece by Richard Serra at the end of the gardens, which both of us found offensive, arrogant, and obstructive... until we came to this rather fine framing of the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees and, in the far distance, the Arc de Triomphe...


Walking past the Serra, we emerged onto the Place de la Concorde and took the obligatory picture there...


... before heading out again along the quais on the right bank as far as the Place de l'Alma, where we took the (again!) obligatory picture of the Eifel Tower as we crossed back over the Seine to the left bank...


... to visit the new Musee du Quai Branly devoted principally to non-Western cultures.


A very pleasant lunch in the museum cafe before entering the exhibition hall to see "Le Siecle du Jazz"--the Century of Jazz--a huge and impeccably documented history that included everything from album covers and press photographs to portraits of musicians and jazz-related art works from Stuart Davis to Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and beyond, including some fine film clips and videotapes by contemporary artists, and huge paintings by the like of Robert Colescott. Along the way, quite a number of works by African American artists like Jacob Lawrenece and Romare Bearden, both of whom I had the good fortune to interview during their lifetime, and plenty of original works by artists I was not familiar with at all. Racism works in insidious ways, and this exhibition was not only a welcome celebration of a unique and well-recognized development in twentieth music, but also a reminder of how easily non-mainstream artists can get marginalized.

A long, long walk back to Saint-Germain along the Rue de l'University. We had planned on a stop for tea and patisseries, but had underestimated the time it would take us to get back to the Ile de la Cite for our seven o'clock concert, and arrived with only sufficient time to join the lines, go through security (yes, everywhere!) and find a seat. The Sainte Chapelle has to be one of the most beautiful settings for a choral concert...


... and we much enjoyed the chance to relax, after a long day on foot, and listen to the music of Mozart (extracts from the Mass,) Haydn (The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross,) Vivaldi and Bach (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.) My critical self agree with our neighbor, an attorney from San Francisco, that the performance was a little ragged at the edges, lacking the crisp quality of a well-rehearsed orchestra; and the selection was a little, well... montonous. But that's a quibble. The whole thing was a memorable experience.

A very nice dinner at an Italian restuarant on the way home, and time in bed to catch up with a bit of reading. The legs ache!


A Slow Start...
April 14th

A slow start to the day--both of us a little bone-weary from the long walk yesterday. We had been planning to make a little more use of the kitchenette corner in our hotel room, at least for breakfast coffee and croissant, but it has not worked out that way. We did make a cup of tea on awakening--one of the few English habits to which I cling after nearly fifty years of exile from the island of my origin. Instead of breakfast in our room, though, we stopped at a cafe around the corner, on the rue Monge, and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and a shared half of a tartine au beurre (buttered baguette) for the (locally modest) price of 10 euros--fifteen dollars! The same breakfast in our hotel (plus orange juice) costs 8 euros each, or the equivalent of twenty-four dollars. Ah, well...


From the rue Monge, we wandered up towards the Pantheon, pausing for a picture of this ruined section of the 12th century wall that once surrounded this district on the left bank (south side) of the Seine.


Then on to the superb church of St.-Etienne, famed not only as the resting place of Ste. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, but also for this magnificent rood, separating the main aisle from the chancel...


My attention was caught by this panel in a small side chapel...


... memorializing the men of this parish killed "pour la patrie"--for their country--during World War I. A long list, as you can see. I thought of how many churches, how many parishes have such lists, and not only for those who died in WWI, but in WWII. An American woman observed to me what a shame it is that we lack such honoring lists in every church in the United States, and I pointed out that the losses were simply more widespread in our vast country. Here they are concentrated, heartbreaking in their omnipresence and their length. Once again I was reminded of the Wilfred Owen poem, where he angrily exposes that old lie: "Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori" (It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.) So many churches, so many lists, so many names of young men who were denied the full length of their lives by human greed, thirst for power, arrogance and inflexibilty.

Anyone familiar with the streets of Paris will have seen dozens of these plaques...


... affixed to the walls of buildings, marking the spot where a resistance fighter was killed by Nazi bullets. Every time I see one, I stop and try to honor one whose courage and tenacity are almost past my understanding.

We walked on to the Pantheon...

... where some of France's great writers and thinkers are laid to rest in pomp and ceremony. Quite a contrast to the little plaque to honor one Alexandre Massiani, known only to his family and friends...


... and through the small back streets...

... and squares...


... to the long, narrow ruse Mouffetard, famous for its markets. Here's a cheese stand to make your mouth water--if you happen to like cheese...


We paused for lunch at a restaurant with one of those "screw you" Paris waitresses who like to let you know how unwelcome you are at their establishment. Actually, these days, you can hardly blame them. The recession has brought about a noticeable staff reduction at many restaurants and hotels, leaving the remainder with the huge job of serving far too many tables for a single human being.

From the restaurant, we walked a short way to check out the hotel we had not chosen, having originally booked there and chosen our present abode for its more convenient location. We decided we would have been equally comfortable at our original choice. And on through the back streets to the Jardin des Plantes, the Parisian version of London's Kew Gardens...


That pink stuff we've been seeing everywhere, is Japanese cherry--why did no one out there remind me? Here it is again...


... a magnificent tree, under which I paused...


... to note down its name! And here's a white one, whose name I also forget...


I do, however, remember the name of these poppoies...


One of the great attraction at the Jardin des Plantes is the Alpine Garden, the entrance to which is a small tunnel, easily overlooked. Fortunately, Ellie had done her usual thorough research and had discovered it mentioned in one of her clippings. A lovely, intimate garden, filled with such treasures as this "Contorta" tree...


... and many other species, some of them rare and ancient. This beautiful marsh plant is what we, as children, called "kingcups."


From the Jardin des Plantes, we walked back along the quais through the Musee de Sculptures en Plein Air--the Museum of outdoor sculpture--with numerous examples of what we used to call "plop art." Here's one of them...


A very lazy end to the day, spent reading in out hotel room with a brief exodus for dinner at a cafe on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. I'm reading an excellent mystery-thriller by one Stieg Laarson--the first of three books he submitted for publication all at once, it seems, before an early death. This one is called "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The next in the series, according to my son, is due out shortly...


So Many Pictures...
April 15th


... so little time! Few words today, then. My I-Phone weather forecast once again proved wrong in predicting rain, and we awoke to a glorious day. Breakfast on the rue Monge again, and a walk across the Seine...


... to the Right Bank, the smart boulevards, the shops...


... and the Palais du Louvre...


... which we plan to visit this evening. For this morning, it's the Musee des Art Decoratifs, where amongst other delights we found this recreation of a Renaissance bedroom...


... this detail from a Medieval painting ...


(I took many pictures of paintings, including details such as this one. But I can't post them all!)
And this Art Nouveau dresser, with a familiar face in the mirror...


Here's a Deco study, which I wouldn't mind importing to Los Angeles. I nice space for a laptop, I think...


Here's a view of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (a part of the Louvre) taken from the third floor, looking down over a special exhibition ot Deco jewelery, to which we were denied entry by one of those officious guards because we had the wrong kind of ticket...


... and here's a part of a wonderful exhibit in a special section set aside for toys. I would have showed you the horses, the space ships...


We stopped for lunch in the Rivoli area at a restaurant that was showing the Tour of Turkey cycle race on wide screen TVs...


It did not look promising, but they served us what we agreed was one of the best omelettes we have ever eaten. A long walk after lunch, starting in the gardens of the Palais Royal, where we found this young man smiling charmingly at his uninvited guests...

... and this rather strange lady feeding her invited ones--pigeons and sparrows both, if you look closely...


Walking around the back streets, we came upon the Passage Choiseuil, an historical arcade I had somehow missed on previous visits. Ellie found an art supply shop where she spent a happy twenty minutes, whilst I enjoyed an unexpected encounter, outside the store, with a fellow enthuiast of the Buddhist teachings who had traveled widely in the 60s and had met several of the important teachers along the way. We agreed in our hope that the world is on the cusp of a great transitional moment. Patrick, my new friend, is expecting some important shift of consciousness starting in 2012. His theory has to do with 2,500-year cycles, too complicated to explain...

We continued on to the Place de l'Opera and down the rue de la Paix (the most expensive street on the French Monopoly board) to the Place Vendome...


... by now looking with some desperation for a place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea. Not the best area to be looking, unless you want to spend fifteen dollars for your cuppa. We did eventually find one on a back street, but paid too much and got too little in return. On, then, to the far end of the Jardin des Tuileries for the walk back to the Louvre. By this time, the rainstorm long promised by my I-Phone was threatening to arrive...

... and did, in fact, for a few minutes, break. (Remember that Richard Serra corten steel sculpture I showed you a couple of days ago at this precise location? Gone! Each of the two huge slabs of steel must have weighed tons, and the task of removing them must have been monumental. But they were gone. Vanished. We were somewhat relieved...) Anyway, here you see people starting to flee from the storm's onset...

... and the mini dust storm blown up by the sudden gusts of wind...

... but miraculously, our weather karma held good and we had no more than a few drops of heavy rain before reaching the Louvre. Ellie's research once again proved invaluable: she had found a less-used method of entry to the museum, so we managed to avoid the huge crowds gathering for the less expansive evening access at six o'clock. Neither of us has visited the Louvre for years--not since the I.M.Pei remodel job--but we were not surprised to find ourselves awed, once more, by the spectacle of the Victory of Samathrace at the top of a long, majestic flight of steps, no less awesome for the crowds that massed around her.


Unbelievable crowds--most of them, be it said--rushing headlong down the Grande Galerie...


... for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa!

We did wonder a bit what she has done to deserve so much more attention than any of the other sublime works of art in this incredible collection--including several other pictures by Leonardo. We did take lots of pictures along the way, but too many, really, to be useful; and besides, the quality of the photographs conveys little sense of the images themselves. You need to be there! You might be amused to know that I--or someone very much like me...


... was scheduled to give a lecture in the auditorium. I wish! Here's a view of one of the great atria from above...


... and a spectacular view of the storm taken from one of the upper floors...

... and another from the Pont Neuf as we crossed back to the Left Bank for dinner.


We had noticed a Lebanese restaurant on our walk the previous evening, and opted for it as a change from the usual Parisian menus. A good choice. We enjoyed an excellent array of Middle Eastern far, and the company of a charming French couple--Chris and Naoumi (sp?)--at the neighboring table with whom we exhcanged a lively bi-lingual conversation about San Francisco (where Chris had lived for several years); America and France and our respective presidents (they do NOT like their new one, but DO like ours, and proposed a swap that we declined!); and the world at large. This is the kind of experience that makes travel truly interesting.

The rain held off even after dinner, and we arrived back at our hotel quite exhausted from the day--but dry!



One More Museum
April 16th

Thursday is our last full day in Paris. I'm jotting down some notes this evening, because I likely won't have time or opportunity to get online tomorrow. Quickly, then, here's a nice little park across from the Sorbonne...



... where we paused a while on our way to the Bon Marche--a department store on the Left Bank that Ellie remembers of old and wanted to revisit. En route, we also walked past the Odeon, a venerable theater from (I think) the 17th century...


... where a back door to the stage area just happened to be open, allowing us this view into the auditorium...


Thence to the Saint Sulpice church in Saint-Germain...


... home to a couple of huge murals by Delacroix. This one depicts the battle between Jacob (?) and the angel. Correct me if I'm wrong...


And here's a fine view of the altar...


From there, we walked on toward our destination, passing this strange sculptural work by Cesar along the way...



Here's a view we took of the fashion departments at the Bon Marche, before a security man rushed up and all but seized our camera. He rushed off again immediately, and my guess was that had spotted my misdemeanor from a TV camera in the ceiling.


We had a pleasant if unremarkable lunch at a sidewalk cafe off the Boulevard Raspail, then continued on to the main destination of the day, the Musee du Quay d'Orsay, which houses the great French public collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. A true feast for the eyes. The photos are, of course, inadequate to give even the smallest impression of this awesome collection. Here's a Monet haystack, among my personal favorites...


... and a couple from the whole gallery full of fabulous Van Goghs...



... and one of many paintings by Paul Gauguin...


A view of the museum, giving a sense of the old railroad station from which it was converted...


... and another, with marble polar bear in foreground...


We stopped for another vastly expensive cup of tea and coffee on the way back to our hotel...


... where I now lie on the bed, typing in this entry. My feet are killing me!

More, probably, from England, where we stop for a couple of days before returning to California on Sunday.


A (Not Quite) Last Hurrah!
April 17th

What a day--one that started out with breakfast at a sidewalk cafe in Paris and ended with a memorable dinner at a pub in the English countryside!

No pictures from the early part of the day. We simply got up at seven, showered, packed, and went out for a cafe au lait and tartine at our usual haunt, stopping at a local boulangerie to buy a sandwich for the train. Made our way to the Gare du Nord via taxi, with a driver who waxed passionate about Obama and heatedly excoriated Bush and the Bush years. Like every French person we have spoken to about the global political situation, he was excited by the prospect of America rejoining the community of nations.

The Eurostar proved a very fast and easy ride between Paris and London--after the usual ritual of getting through customs and immigration, completed by both countries, France and England, at the train station of origin. I caught up with American-style news with the Herald Tribune, did the crossword, and before I knew it found the train pulling in to St. Pancras station in London. Some small problems finding our way across St. Pancras to the appropriate train for Harpenden, but it all proved quite manageable, and we found Matthew and Alice waiting for us at their local train station.

Great to be back with the family! The children seemed delighted to see their grandparents again, and Diane had prepared an excellent chicken Caesar salad for our lunch, along with a good plate of cheeses. After lunch, a special treat in the form of a car trip north to visit Bletchley Park...


... a beautiful mansion set in a lovely park--and the site, not incidentally, of the great code-breaking work without which the Allied victory over Hitler in World War II would have been far from certain. I have a special attachment to the place, because the big old rectory where I lived, not far from Bletchley, as a child, was the temporary wartime home for several of the people who worked here. A long view of the utilitarian blocks...


.... that housed the enormously complex (and secret) equipment...


... that was developed to decode German military command messages sent out on their "Engima" machine in codes that the Nazis believed, right up to the end, to be unbreakable. It was the icnredible courage of some British servive men that led to the capture of code books--the first, I believe, from a captured U-Boat--that made the effort just a little bit easier.



Bletchley Park is now a fascinating museum, which involved a great deal of study for which we had no time. So most of the story remained, well, a complete enigma to my distinctly non-technical mind. But I do understand that the computer on which I write this morning originates in the work that was done by this relative handful of pioneers. Here's a shot of the telephone operating room with, in the foreground, Diane's tiny cell phone--likely more powerful than the entire early system!


Here's a snapshot of Ellie and the grandchildren on our way to visit the main house...


.... where I was thrilled to find, in the register, at least two familiar names. At first I remembered only the a couple of first names, Vivian and Fiona, then suddenly put Fiona together with Baker and found the name of one of our wartime guests. And then remembered that my aunt Gay was also living with us and working at Bletchley, and looked up "Williams"--my mother's maiden name. And there she was...


... Helen Gabrielle Willams. My aunt died a few years ago, but it was definitely a big thrill to find her wartime work memorialized here!

I couldn't leave without a few shots of the beautiful interior of the house, which Ellie and I decided must be of the Arts and Crafts era of the early twentieth century. Here we go, the great dining hall...


.... a grand stairway...


Here's Hut 6, where both Gay and Fiona worked, now somewhat decrepit, as you can see...


... though several of the buildings are being restored.

And in the evening, another very special moment, one that I have been looking forward to for the entire trip. I must have mentioned somewhere along the line in The Buddha Diaries that I had been contacted, thanks to the marvels of the Internet, by a very old friend who was at boarding school with me more than sixty years ago. I cannot remember seeing him since, though he recalls one brief meeting a few years later. No matter, here we are, reunited after all these years...


Whilst the families got acquainted around a big table in the pub where we had agreed to meet for dinner, Ben and I took a long walk together through the soggy English twilight, and were delighted to find how much we had, back then, and still have, in common. We have led lives very different--and very distant--from each other, but have arrived in many ways at the same place. There's no rom, here, to recall our conversation, but we promised each other to pursue our common interests in further dialogue. I'm looking forward to that, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about it on The Buddha Diaries. In the meantime, here is a part of the younger generation--my Matthew and Diane and Ben's Sue and her husband Roger--with a beaming Ben.


The picture reflects, I think, some of the sheer joy of the evening. We all got along, as they say, famously--despite having to shout a great deal over the noise of an incredibly busy pub. My only regret is not to have found, on my camera this morning, a good picture of Ben's wife, Rosemary. Another time, perhaps, at the Alford arms...


Matthew's Tom-Tom GPS guided us back home along what it must have thought was the shortest route, along some alarmingly narrow but eerily beautiful country roads...


And so to bed, very tired, but after a truly exhilerating day. I'm writing this n Saturday morning, the last day before we hop aboard a plane for the long flight back to Los Angeles. As Ellie said last night at bedtime, it does seem weird to be headed back home. It feels so very distant from England, the English people, the English countryside...


Arriving Home...
April 19th

... and driving to our house through downtown Los Angeles, we noted that the temperature stood at 99 degrees. Our home in the hills was slightly cooler, at 95. Having left England only a few hours earlier with temperatures in the fifties, it was something of a shock.

From home, then, a few last words about our last day in England. The morning was devoted to a bit of grocery shopping--we always bring home a good stack of tea bags, and had also decided to make sandwiches for the plane. And a good cup of coffee on the main street in Harpenden. The off to lunch with the family at another pub, The Wicked Lady, where we all posed for a picture by our waiter...

... and I for one with each of my granddaughters...



I seem to have missed the chance for one with Joe. Too bad.

A good lunch, then, and a drive into St. Albans, where Ellie and Diane had chosen to indulge in a different kind of shopping whilst Matthew and I took the children down to the lovely park below the cathedral. We fed the ducks and swans...




... and found a moorhen's nest, with mother-to-be sitting on it in the middle of the lake...


... and a grassy slope that proved to be great for rolling down...


... somewhat to Matthew's distress, since it produced results like this...


... with the children's clothes. "I'll be dead meat," I think his comment was, anticpating Diane's reaction. We managed to assuage our guilt, however, with a stop at the ice cream van...


By one of those no-coincidence coincidences, we ran into my friend Ben and his son-in-law at the park, and accepted their invitation to stop by for a cup of tea. A great opportunity for Ben and I to sit in the rather chilly sunlight behind the house and engage in further conversation about the strange directions and indirections of our lives.

Back to Harpenden for an excellent chicken dinner, family pictures on the wide-screen television, after a few technical hitches. And then bed. Up early this morning to catch the flight to Los Angeles and the return home.


Thanks, Everyone
April 20th

I just want to take a quick moment today to thank everyone who followed our European travels, and especially those who wrote in to comment. I did not, as you know, respond to comments while I was on the road, but I did read them, and was heart-warmed by words from old friends and new. Some I will be unable to respond to, except by a return comment, because I lack email addresses. So please, if you'd like to get in touch, use the email contact information that you'll find on the site rather than the comments column, which does not permit personal response. So good to hear from you all. Warm thanks...

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