Wednesday 28 April 2010

Hillsdale by the Sea

If that's the title, a traveller remembers watching in any direction to the sea.  Sometimes, as in the Guadiana at Vila Real de Santo Antonio or the Tagus at Lisbon, he watches a river, calling it sea, which it is within a mile or two.  Everywhere he walked was toward the sea . . .

This remembering goes on overlooking a hotel parking lot at the west edge of Hillsdale (not counting, the traveller adds, the western sky, just now retired into dark).  Wind blows in his open windows.

21 in Lisbon today, the same in Hillsdale.  As he would have done at the bottom of Alfama, across from the Lisbon waterfront, the traveller today found a cafe for a cup of tea.  He read the paper, which probably would have been a day old Guardian or Telegraph over there, by the sea.

In either place there was all sorts of remembering, broadly understood as a matter of invention, which might turn up in this paragraph once it's longer.

After that the traveller goes home, where he misses sea the most and, as if denying his sense of loss, watches hockey on tv.

Pigeon Update

Many of you have asked for
a pigeon update.  (As you may recall,
I called them "rock doves" until
my birder friend said "they're pigeons".)
(They were taking over.  I rigged up lights,
electric prods, a track of nails.  I sent away
for netting and fibreglass spurs meant to burst
to sharp pieces next to birds.  But when it came
right down to it I had to wreck a home by
picking up an egg and chucking it, then fighting off
the mother for a while.  I guess they were
discouraged after that.)

They didn't arrive this spring, at least into
Sector 25, where I've had to lay off night
staff, Perimeter Unit.

Makes for a dulll evening until
T. and L. and L. show up
and I try out Belen's paella
(with chicken, Duquesa) and regret
not buying saffron in Spain.

Friday 23 April 2010

Getting There

You’re a couple from far away, on a hot afternoon. You stare out the window of a hotel shuttle bus from Pearson airport in Toronto but don’t see much beyond the freeways of the place, its sky everywhere.

You hope that the bus is heading in the right direction and will stop at the right time, that you replied correctly to “You don’t have a ticket, correct?” (the bus driver offering this in a loud voice, smiling, one eye on the other passengers), that your hotel reservation holds, that the water is hot and the bathrooms clean (that you have a bathroom in the first place), that somehow you can get some food.

Arrival is easy when you know the place. In my case, the shift from the British Airways 767--pause to acknowledge that I showed up at Heathrow yesterday with an Air France reservation, which they’d cancelled on me--to my hotel room in Toronto with a slice of pizza in one hand, the first of two Blues in the other, and the Globe in the one after that was so smooth that I’m not sure it happened. (Except that just now, next morning, I phoned back to the hotel about what I’d left behind.)

Yes, and knowledge is easy when you know. We don’t label our street corners, our trains (oh right, we have no trains), in general our systems and procedures for everything from shopping for groceries to unlocking doors, for people who are new to them.

I feel for the young man I saw this morning check in at WestJet. He checked a mammoth hockey bag and a backpack the size of a barrel. That left him with a smaller suitcase on rollers, a smaller backpack, a camera bag, and his jacket. Approaching the counter, he had to walk backwards to manage it all.

If he’s by himself when he arrives, I hope he finds his way.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Now on to the Henry Moore Show at the Tate

Just now I ate the hottest curry ever, the Thai Jumbo Chicken Curry at the Shannon on Portobello Road, London.

"Another napkin, please," I called out at one point.  "Better make it two."

The barmaid gave me three.  "Hot!"

"I like it that way, though," I said, slumping back to my table, eyes watered, nose running.  I felt a bright red.

A pint of Guiness and a glass of water--absolutely essential for that curry enterprise.  In fact, "Another Guiness," I said to the publican.  "Have you tried that curry?"

"No, I've not tried it," he said.

"Make sure you've a Guiness in front of you when you do," I told him.

We made small talk about the red-cross-on-white flags I'd observed the barmaid tack up.  "St. George's Day tomorrow," the publican said.  "Like Aussie Day, St. Patrick's . . . ".

I tell you, that curry sent a flame through my systems.  If I make it through this Guiness, I may need another.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

One Afternoon in London

Riding the top front of the red double-decker but up to Camden Town to look for the taxidermist shop used in The Man Who Knew Too Much—a Fellini-esque scene in which Jimmy Stewart, realizing he’s wrongly accused the proprietor of kidnapping, tries to escape the grasps of the shop workers, in the process inserting his right hand into the mouth of a stuffed lion—I damn near fried in the hot sun.

Just now, seated in one of a hundred sling-back lawnchairs under that same sun in Green Park:

Him: I need to charge for use of the chair, sir.
Me: Pardon?
Him: You have to pay to use the chair, sir.
Me: Are you serious?
Him: Yes I am, sir.
Me: Why?
Him: It’s not a free chair, sir.
Me: How much?
Him: One pound fifty.
Me: (smiling, handing over coins) It’s just a chair in the sun.
Him: (smiling, handing over receipt) Thank you, sir.

Sunday 18 April 2010

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The black shine of a pistol barrel pokes out from behind red velvet curtains at the Royal Albert Hall. A visiting royal is to be shot at the precise moment a cymbal crashes during the performance of a Bernard Herman oratorio. The McKennas, played by James Stewart and Doris Day, have blundered onto the plan, trying to rescue their son from the would-be assassins.

Doris Day spots the gun barrel and sees its target. She screams a moment before the cymbal crash. Startled, the assassin misses, and is himself killed—he falls to his death—when the police rush into the box he’d occupied with his near-sighted accomplice who’d been following the score.

The other morning I was thrilled to visit the Albert Hall and see I saw where this all happened.  Why not, I reckoned, look for the rest of the London locations for the Hitchcock film.  First, the taxidermist shop said in the film to be at 61 Burdette Street.  There is no Burdette Street, but an actual taxidermist shop at 61 College Street was used.  I went there.  Torn down, replaced by an apartment block.  Next the Anglican church which in the film is located in Bayswater on Ambrose Street.  No Ambrose Street, but an actual church was used.  I went there--the church is in Brixton, not Bayswater.  Torn down. 

But this weekend I'll view an early Hitchcock film, The Lodger, outdoors near where much of it was shot in the 1930s.

Unless KLM puts me on a flight by then to replace the one they cancelled because of the ash.

Thursday 15 April 2010

What I’m Packin’

I took a picture of my shoes just now. A silly thing, no doubt. As if the work of the day was done, the can of Tennent’s opened, the pantlegs rolled up.

I give myself a 95 for decisions on what to bring with me on this trip of a hundred days, a 98 for the footwear—the Blunnies and my dad’s old slippers, topped up with the sandals from Santander once the Euro winter backed off.

I added a sweater, two t-shirts, four or five pairs of socks, one pair of pants from the high-end nautical wear shop in Vigo, and a travel mouse for my netbook. 85 for all that. Longjohns, bathers, shorts—not worn often but handy at times, 89. Nylon rain jacket and three umbrellas lost, wrecked or left behind, call that 80. Plastic accordion document file (full), new netbook, Tupperware box of office supplies, 99. Camera, thera-band, clothesline and pegs, deck of cards, mink oil for the Blunnies, duct tape, jackknife (in case I need to start a tractor), pillowcase/laundry bag, two books (Paterson and The Given), th’underwear—also 99.

By now I’ve sent home three boxes of stuff, a hundred bucks in postage. When I pack Friday to leave Saturday morning, with four days to spend somewhere, I should be able to more or less toss it all in my bag and backpack, no worries.

Going shopping in Edinburgh tomorrow though.

Monday 12 April 2010

Spring Healing

I see the skin on the back of my left hand is healing.

Sometimes when you call a plumber it’s a couple of days before he/she can get out to the house, and in the meantime (“in between time’, as the popular song would say next) you leak, you stay split, you make a mess all over, you start to think maybe this is the way it’s going to be.

Same with the back of my hand after I spilt hot water on it. Red. A deeper red, almost a crimson bruise. A dried, weathered look, like some old fence I’d never get around to mending. I asked the Tassie woman who lives next door if she had anything for it. “Here,” she said, handing me a bottle of good scotch.

Only took an hour or two, the hand feels much better. Next: the knee.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Who’s this moving alive over the moor?”

“All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings” writes Alice Oswald as a preface to her beautiful new book, Dart, from Faber & Faber, a book/poem set on the river near where she lives in Devon. The mutterings—fragments of human voices, history, river culture, close observation of the river itself in continuous flow—stay true and quick, in language with muscle and snap all the way through.

The ending might be a tad over-defined, in my opinion, but I’ve added Dart to the list of books the traveller carries, in the form of place = form of poem section, next to Steveston.

And with a draft of my Hillsdale book complete, for now, I’m moving on to a series of imaginary real pubs, beginning (as much as any idea “begins”) yesterday with a visit to the Polton Arms, this morning with the dream pub, this afternoon with a bus ride into Edinburgh.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Getting There

86 pages off the top of the deck of the old printer at Hawthornden today, April 1, no joke—that’s the (in)complete first draft of Journey to Hillsdale, An Auto-Geography.

Far from a book, even if someone decides to publish it eventually, with much yet to see, write, photograph, figure out and revise, the thing has barely reached the launch pad, never mind the blasting off. Still, I’m happy to have come this far, having left for Portugal with 130 pages of single-spaced fragments, 150 pics, and the thickest wad of photocopied material I had room for in my bag.

Get me back to Hillsdale, maybe by the end of the summer I can finish a second draft. In the meantime, you’re all invited to the Jane’s Walk I’m leading on Sunday, May 2.  Details to follow.
Now, time for a little mischief.
Later: I kidnapped her lunch, that Aussie rotter of a neighbour, and came back to find that she’d kidnapped mine.