Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting Out Of The Smoke and Into The Country

There comes a time in every Londoner's life when that person thinks "Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, this is a giant, energetic, polluted metropolis full of miserable assholes and if I don't get out of here I might just snap the next time the clerk asks me if I have an Advantage card." That time was nigh so the Beautiful Competition and I packed our bags, booked a train and got as far away from the Big Smoke as we could go, by heading straight west. Cornwall. St. Ives.

Cornwall is an unusual place. Historically speaking, it remained Celtic longer than the rest of Britain, and after the Romans left it remained "Romanized" long after the Saxons set up shop in the eastern part of the island. In fact, after the Roman pull-out, the last remaining operable seaports were out in Cornwall. It's farm and fish country, then it became mining country, and now it's artistic and tourist country. Yellow sand beaches, overpriced restaurants and even the occasional sunny day. So we, along with thousands of other tourists, descended and made the most of nine days out of the City.

We did so with no agenda in mind; this was a holiday designed to relax. It was our replacement for a 'let's go to the beach and drink those little drinks with umbrellas in them served to us by dark-skinned natives' holiday that would have been way too expensive. We got sunburns and I even swam in the ocean a bit (although, I admit, I was gasping at how cold it was) and took a very 'whatever' approach to things.

The first couple of days were 'sit on the beach, putter around town and relax' days. St. Ives is a fairly famous art colony, with its own Tate gallery (!) and a long tradition of landscape and modernist art. The landscape is rocky and rugged, with high granite cliffs dropping into jagged tidal pools where seals bask. It has inspired literary types of all kinds: the Godrevy ligthhouse in St. Ives Bay inspired one Ms. Virgina Woolf to write To The Lighthouse, and the nearby town of Zennor was where D. H. Lawrence composed much of Women In Love. It's not hard to see why: it's a wild land, and its rural nature and tourist draw has allowed it to avoid some of the economic pitfalls that other places in England have experienced. Which isn't to say that stuff didn't exist, just that the vibe was a little less intense.

A massive hiking trail circles the entirety of the area - the South West Coastal Trail - and we did a piece of it, walking into Zennor from St. Ives through fields of heather and over rocks the size of tractor-trailers. Logged a good 9.44 miles on the GPS, and got some amazing pictures.

We planned a trip to the Isles of Scilly, the westernmost point in England some 28 miles off the coast, but ended up scrubbing it the morning of because the helicopters weren't flying due to the mist and fog. Welcome to England! So we saw most of Penzance (the town of the pirates fame) and ended up bussing out to St. Michael's Mount, an island-fortress that is only accessible at low tide, by foot anyway. As we discovered, when the tide comes in and you need to take the ferry back, it costs money! Piracy is alive and well in Cornwall!

The trip was well worth it; we both ended up sunburned, relaxed, happy and destressed. Coming back to London was hard; on our way back from breakfast this morning, Liz remarked that London still smelled badly when it was wet. I agreed; it's like a dog in that it's alright most of the time, but it's really kind of stinky and when it gets wet it only gets worse. So it's good to get out and relax.

On a more personal level, I got a ton of writing done and did some pretty strong thinking about a lot of things - my future, priorities, and so forth. But I'll save that for the Puppet Show.

Pictures here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unexpected Pleasures

Here's a list of some things I love about London that I didn't know about, didn't expect to like or took me by surprise:
  • Not having a car. I enjoy driving (well, most of the time) and I absolutely loved my Prius. It was painful to give it up. But I've adjusted well to not having a car, and all that implies: you can't pick up Ikea furniture without getting a cab or home delivery, you have to limit yourself to small runs at the grocery store, and sometimes you get lost walking around. But you see so much more from the street than you do from a car. I love it.
  • Fresh food. Fresh ingredients just taste better. Not so many preservatives means better tasting food, believe it or not.
  • Living in the big city and being around so many diverse groups has not actually confirmed my stereotypes and prejudices. In many cases it has challenged them. Seeing people of different races, creeds and nationalities struggling every day for the same things I struggle for humanizes them. I take back things I said before about living in the city: this experience is not something you can get in strip-mall suburban America.
  • I've mentioned it before: there are some women who think an American accent is sexy. Who'da thunk it?
  • Things like this.
  • I kind of enjoy carrying an umbrella around with me almost all the time now.
  • Reading on mass transit. I've read more since I arrived here, mostly on the tube and on the bus on the way to and from work, than I have in the last two or three years combined.
  • Great acts of kindness. This is probably a blog post in and of itself, but I've seen complete strangers being extraordinarily kind to each other. So many people living on top of each other requires some sort of unwritten social contract, and it's amazing what I've seen - people helping women with strollers onto busses, people helping elderly people who have fallen down. Clerks just generally being friendly and helpful. Returning someone's wallet or Oyster card after they left it in the store, or it fell out of their pocket. I've seen people being complete assholes of course, but I'm always floored by how kind people here are, often to complete strangers. Even if a drunk stumbles into you, you don't yell, you just say 'steady on mate' and help him on his way. After all - someday that very well could be you.
  • Monmouth Coffee Company. Who knew some of the best coffee in the world is roasted in London?
  • I'm playing less games, but doing more social sorts of things. This can only be a good thing.
  • Photography. Who knew I'd take so many pictures here?
  • My muse. I'm writing more than I have in years. Since college. Since ever, really.
  • Contrary to what Republicans would have you believe, socialized health care does not suck. In fact, it fucking rocks.
This has been a great experience and I really do love it here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not Gone...

Just busy.

Actually I've spent the last two weekends doing my From Hell Chapter 4 tour, which has taken far longer than I expected. If you want a little preview, the photos are on Flickr.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

He's At It Again

On the way to the bank, a tourist stopped me and asked me where Westminster Abbey was. I helpfully pointed to it (the big, white Gothic building just down the street) and she thanked me, then asked if the streets here 'move around' because it seemed very easy to get lost.

I laughed and said it sure seems like it, but I know better.

He's out there, moving streets around.

You hear me, minotaur? I'm on to you!