“Veni, vidi, Vespa”

Tuesday, 30 October: “15 is the new 12”Ivan and I piss away most of the day, eating and drinking and nettin’. That, and we see Notre Dame. It’s really beautiful. No wonder so many people are Catholic – the architecture alone is a great reason to join the crowd. I’m truly humbled by its beauty, but not enough to pay 50 francs to for a tour of the towers.

The drinking fountain near Notre Dame has an inscription in Sharpie: “US go home or we’ll kill you”. I take a great photograph of it – it’s for my new coffee table book “Mortie’s trip to Europe and fun with US foreign policy” – ask for it by ISBN number.

We eat at a touristy place called Quasimodo. The food sucks, but the wine provides an excellent muscle relaxant for our 15 (not 12!) hour train ride to Rome tonight.

Our train says we have a “couchette”, so we assume we have a sleeper cabin, and it seems that way, until a middle-aged French couple enters the cabin and says something in French that denotes equal surprise. They introduce themselves as Bernadette and Michelle (Michael!) and seem like they’ll be pleasant roommates for the night.

Ivan and I go to the dining car. We’re late, but served anyway, and share a table with an old Italian man and a younger friend of his. Across the aisle, a father and his two teenage daughters, all American, talk about French history. We join in the conversation, as we seem to be the only other English-speaking guests in the car tonight. One of the daughters is studying international business in Luxembourg, and their father is taking them across Europe for a couple of weeks. The international business student has also travelled to Russia, so we talk about that for a bit.

The bottle of wine sets in, but not enough to offset the snoring from the French couple who occupy the lower bunks. Despite that, it’s the most comfortable train I’ve ridden on. Amtrak could take some lessons here.

Non-US fountain.

This fella is BIG.


Inside Notre Dame.

Don’t use a flash.

Wednesday, 31 October: “There’s no Halloween in Italy?”

The morning train journey to Rome ends with instant coffee and an appreciation for terra firma. I haven’t even stepped off the train and I feel comfortable here. People dress well, and wear it well. There’s an animated quality to the conversations here, and they’re acted out in a way that indicates sweeps week.

A young man approaches us and asks if we need lodging. We sense a scam, but he turns out to be legit, and we get beautiful accommodations at a local hotel for $35 each a night, at “Hotel Hollywood Stella”. No other references to “A Streetcar Named Desire” can be found, but we are down the street from the Hotel California. Uh, oh.

Italian is best spoken by Italians. There’s a sensual rhythm to the language, be it consonant or vowel. They figure us out immediately and respond in English, which disappoints Ivan, who has studied the language, albeit briefly, as we eat at the touristy Piazza Navona.

A demonstration of students is going on in front of a government building, but the banners they carry indicate that it’s a domestic matter. Still, we’ll not be visiting any of those symbols of American capitalism-we’re sticking to Roman imperialism, thank you very much, and visit the Pantheon and Piazzi Venezia.

Ivan talks to one of the employees of the hotel. Jaclyn is an ex-pat from Massachusetts who loved it here so much she got on the next plane as soon as she got back to the US. She’s looking to rent a room and has had some bad experiences, so Ivan and I become her personal entourage.

She says men are really aggressive here (a polar opposite to the Emerald City’s asexuality problem), and said that the last prospective landlord had a box of condoms ready because he had heard that “American women are easy, like Sicilian women”. Yow.

Train to bus, and long waits for both, as we slowly advance towards the possible room for rent. We’re dropped off in front of an old Italian military base, which could easily be a backdrop for a Scooby Doo cartoon. It’s creepy, and the landlord sounds creepy, so we never actually get to the apartment.

So back to Rome, where Jaclyn knows someone who works at an Irish pub in Rome! We drink Guinness. The place is decked out in Halloween, and possibly the only place in town that’s celebrating the holiday. BBC2 is playing on a large video monitor, and for a moment I remember what it’s like to be around others who speak English.

Outside the hotel.

Jungle Girl gets familiar with the new digs.

Statue of liberty?

Narrow street.

The Pantheon.

Inside the Pantheon.

Thursday, 1 November: “Attack of the pregnant pickpockets”

We start the day fending off a large group of pickpockets. Ivan and I are accosted by a pack of pregnant women, appearing as a homeless family, carrying pieces of cardboard meant to conceal hands. Four or five women come up to Ivan at once trying to distract him, while another in the group quickly puts a hand in his front pocket to snatch money. As Ivan is a born-and-raised New York City native, he’s wise to this scam, and grabs the offender’s hand. Another in the group says “Merde!” (Shit?), thinking that they’re caught. Ivan quickly leaves his groupies, grabs my arm and pulls us to safety, indicating that they were about to prey on me like a pack of wolves.

The Vatican Museum is closed today. We spend most of the day at San Pietro Basilica, the Vatican place of worship. This is it – God’s Catholic Headquarters. They’re very nice digs, and they put the Bellagio to shame. It’s truly a sight that cannot be described in ASCII, HTML or other Roman languages.

Ivan and I climbed 500 steps to the top of San Pietro Basilica, where you’re rewarded with a view of the entire city. No skyscrapers or modern buildings can be seen — it truly looks ancient.

It turns out that the Vatican is the last papal state, and in addition to having its own telephone and postal services, it must also remain neutral in Rome’s political structure. That must explain the presence of all the condom ads that litter Rome’s subway system.

Vatican phone service: Dial 2 for an outside number. I wonder what happens if you dial 0?

Ivan wants to see an opera on the trip. What better place than Italy? La Traviata has a waiting list, but we make it on the last of four seats! It’s playing at the American Church, a non-denominational, cathedral-like establishment with the happiest color scheme I’ve ever seen in a place of worship. There’s Hebrew and Roman lettering on the walls, too. It’s a stunning opera, and of course the main character/love interest dies at the end. There’s no happy ending/Bruce Willis saves-the-day scenario here.

Scooters of every likeness abound, from classic and new Vespas to crotch-rocket mini-sportbikes like Aprilla and Italjet. Vespa is Italian for wasp, and when you hear 20 or so of these things parading down the street, it *does* sound of infestation.

My first slice of folded pizza on the way home. Apparently, they serve it this way in NYC, but since I’m an upstater, I feel like a Canadian on his first journey to America.

Jaclyn leaves a note under our door offering several leads to karaoke bars in Rome. The future is bright.

San Pietro’s front yard.

The front door.

Inside San Pietro.

Confess in Italian.

What an altar.

Don’t be fooled by the outfits.

Wacky stairs.

From the inside dome.

From the inside again.


Mortie and Ivan with graffiti.

Jungle Girl at San Pietro.

You’ve been a great crowd.

The Pope’s yard.

Watch the first step.

View of the front yard.

That’s nice.

Vatican phone.

Dial 2 for an outside line?


More steps.

At the opera.

I want one!


“Symbols of Capitalism and Leather”

Saturday, 27 October: “Pioneer Square, redux”The toll of the trip — it’s really easy to stay up late here, like the way it is in Vegas, except that they don’t pump extra CO2 in the atmosphere here — makes itself known. I spend most of the day dead for income tax reasons, sleeping in Paris and dreaming in English.

Until the late evening, that is. Paris comes alive, and we’re two blocks from the main strip. Ivan and I forage for food near St. Eustache. They serve *late* here, and the restaurants that stay open are much nicer than the Dennys and White Spot’s that litter North America. Our dining ritual here has been to split a bottle of wine daily, and that alone has raised our French to an unacceptable level — the French equivalent of grunts, clicks and whistles (Shamuex, anyone?). I could see how someone could become conversational here in a matter of weeks – it’s survival, really.

There’s a bigger ritual here — it makes Pioneer Square’s in Seattle and Rush and Division Streets in Chicago look absolutely subtle — and that’s *l’amor*. Ivan and I watch from the sidelines (literally, at a sidewalk café on the main strip) as beautiful people gaze at other beautiful people. Advantage: Mademoiselles. There’s a slew of under-21 here. It must be amazing to be under 21 and do more than hang out at Denny’s.

A creepy man is sitting in front of us — he looks desperate, and has most definitely been sitting here all evening, judging by the looks the waitstaff gives him. A quartet of horny Frenchmen sit behind us and yell/whistle at any female form that struts by. Of note: this ritual has little to no age restriction. Men and women aged 15-55 stroll by, dressed to kill. I wonder what the US disposition might be if it worked the way it does here. I haven’t seen so much leather since the Catwalk.

Sunday, 28 October: “Who has to go to the Louvre?”

We’re already becoming regulars here, with a morning habit of patronizing the same coffee shop and ordering cappuccino made with illy espresso. The woman who takes our order becomes slightly less annoyed with us each day and we eventually learn how to order in French, albeit using our piece-meal linguistic standard.

Today we’ve committed ourselves to see the sights, but because the queues are so long, it’s only a walking tour. This includes The Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Tour Eiffel, the Arc d’Triomphe, and a ride on a ferris wheel at the end of the Champs Elysees, which seems to be a great big shopping strip for the moderately wealthy (moderate because they have a Gap). More beautiful people everywhere.

I’m exhausted! Ivan catches a movie ‘Le Petit Poucet’, a gruesome fairy tale made in France, but unlike regular French cinema, it has a happy ending! C’est la globalization.

It’s a quiet night. We sketch out the rest of our trip: Tuesday to Rome, Friday to Florence, Sunday to Marseille, Tuesday to Barcelona, and Thursday to London. Not bad for a month, although next time it’s one country at a time… Greece? Brazil? Boise?

The best late night snack ever is a crepe poulet avec fromage, a chicken and cheese crepe. It’s a very large thin pancake with the ingredients cooked within and wrapped into a funnel shape. Only five dollars and the tastiest meal yet. Perhaps food tastes better sitting on a curb next to a littered sidewalk?

The ‘Only in London W2’ book I’m reading is getting interesting – filled with scandal, but still not on a level deeper than the Old Pequliar back home in Ballard.

Jungle Girl with a view of the next photo.Eiffel et al.

Jungle Girl conquers La Tour Eiffel.

Greenpeace protects inflatable animals!One tough lady.

Leave Mort alone!


A French traffic jam.

Full on Arc action.

Arc with drama.

Garden of the future!

Monday, 29 October: “Stay away from Symbols of Capitalism, 10/02/01”

While I’m asleep, Ivan has taken the Metro to the train station and booked tickets on tomorrow night’s train to Rome. First class: $100. It’s an overnighter, 12 hours.

It’s an hour long wait to get into the Louvre. While waiting, two American students let us know of a travel advisory issued last week by the US Department of State that “symbols of American capitalism” may be designated targets (you can drink the water, though). It’s at this point that two of their friends join them and ask if they want to go to TGI Fridays for dinner tonight. The students say no, and a counteroffer of Hard Rock Cafe is suggested, where war protesters were holding up a giant banner that says “US Go Home”.

Ivan and I spend most of our time in the Louvre sculpture areas, but everyone’s here to see the Mona Lisa/La Joconde. It gets its own wall, but honestly, there’s much better work here. The visit here has whetted my appetite for the Vatican. Ivan said that the ceilings there are filled with art and laid with guilt, and I thought that was only natural since Catholicism is known for that, but he corrects me. It’s gild. My bad.

Ferris wheel with onlooking statue.

Ferris wheel at the end of Champs Elysees.


The view from our hotel room.

A smart car!

Warriors beg for sun in Seattle.

This thing gets an entire wall.

Ivan! Duck!

“International star du karaoke!”

Wednesday, 24 October: “I smoked what?”

I spend most of the day asleep. The events of the last few days, the long trip back to Dublin, the frustrating experience finding last-minute flights to Paris on Friday, and staying out until the wee hours whenever possible (a sweet memory of nightlife in Chicago) have taken a toll on my body, so I engage in the preventative medicine of deep, soothing rest.

I’m back at the same hostel again, with a private room and the sensible idea of a good night’s sleep. These ideas only last so long, however. I’m in the mood to dance and head over to Ri Ra at midnight. I hook up with a couple of people I met on Monday, and meet two more tonight:

  • Patrice, a Frenchman in his mid-20s who works at a posh restaurant in Dublin
  • Fiona, studying computer science at Trinity College
  • Cliona, who works with handicapped children. Her and Fiona grew up together.
  • Amyric (pronounced Ah-meer-eek), a restaurant manager, also French. Roommate of Patrice.

It’s last call at Ri Ra. The Frenchmen suggest we all go back to their place, which we do, to smoke “cigarettes”. I smoke part of one, and am thirsty just a few minutes later. How about that? Conversations ensue in English, French and Gaelic. It’s amazing how much of this you can’t pick up in a few hours.

The clock in the hostel says 5:15am when I return. Michael: 1, Sensible Ideas: 0.

Thursday, 25 October: “You’re from where?”

I move to another room in the hostel, with two twin beds. I have a roommate today — from Seattle! Specifically, Greenlake He’s a 21-year-old college student studying computer science at UW. We geek out a bit, and get a big laugh out of the small world situation.

Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ accompanies tv and radio ads for Windows XP, which debuts today. The more I try to leave Seattle, the more it screams to be recognized.

Apart from making sure my body is sufficiently caffeinated, nothing else happens tonight.

Friday, 26 October: “Sinatra *is* the international language!”

Ivan meets me at the ticket counter in Dublin on Friday morning, and tells me about his amazing time in Galway, the least important event being singing “My Way” with drunken strangers. Such a good time that he only had an hour and a half sleep last night and drove maniacally to Dublin averaging 90mph in 2 1/2 hours. I’m so glad I didn’t have to read about him in the Irish Times Police Beat.

Liverpool Street station in London, our connection between yet another set of airports, is an architectural marvel.

As we land in Paris, it occurs to me that I don’t know any French. We’ve got 3 nights at a cheap hotel near the Opera on rue de something-or-other. We’re now nine hours ahead of Seattle, but that still doesn’t help them beat the Yankees retroactively. It’s time to move on now. (Cubs in 2002!)

On our way to forage for food in English, we pass an establishment that boasts karaoke every night!

Dual-priced menus showing the franc and the euro. The euro goes into effect on 1 January 2002 and is so close in value to the dollar that we know exactly how much we’re being fleeced at the restaurant we eventually choose.

I’ll never drink coffee from a machine in the UK again. Wine is expensive, and damn, it’s good. No screwtop caps here.

Women and men are very fashion-conscious here, and it looks great on them. Leather is the new denim.

We pass the karaoke bar on the way back. Ivan’s tired, but I convince him that this is the fair and just thing to do, if only for either the children or the American PeopleTM.

Hey, everyone’s singing in French, and the audience is singing along! It reminds me of the time I was at a party a long time ago when the host put on a Garth Brooks CD and everyone knew the lyrics except me and proceeded to sing and I felt like I had entered a Twilight Zone episode or something and wondered if my friends that I thought I knew so well had been replaced with beings from some horrible alternate universe.

Ivan requests “It’s Now or Never”. He gives admirable effort, but the audience seems much more receptive to French songs. Maybe if we sang in *outrageous* French accents?

I get the courage to sing “Lady is a Tramp” (apologies to Jeannette, who reigns as the tune’s owner in the greater Ballard area) in English, and I belt it out as loud, as unapologetically, and as Sinatra-like as I can. This feeling completely overshadows the fact that I paid 9 dollars for a Heineken. I feel a part of Paris now, albeit a miniscule one.

Liverpool Street Station.

Ivan’s happy to be on our way to Paris.

On our way to one airport or another.


Monday, 22 October: “Drive on the left!”

“Drive on the left, drive on the left, drive on the leeeeefffffftttt!”
from Ivan and Mortie’s hit “Drive on the Left”, now playing in the Fiat

Ivan and I fly to Dublin today – our friend Jillian is to meet us there. Ivan decides to rent a car, a tiny Fiat Punto (punter? some Spanish swear word?). He’s never driven here before, but you have to learn sometime, and a large label affixed to the windshield’s interior reminds us to ‘DRIVE TO THE LEFT’ with an arrow pointing to the … left. It’s in German and French, too. They drive on the same side of the road as we do, apparently.

Apart from one error on the way out of the rental car lot (the people at the booth must have a scorecard for how many rental car drivers exit the lot the opposite way), Ivan does a capable job getting us to the city center. We make a game of it, singing a made-up song called “Drive on the Left”. The only lyrics to the song are above — it’s a work in progress.

Ivan learns how to drive in Ireland by spending two hours looking for parking in the city center, while I check into the hostel, and wait for him and Jillian to arrive. We’re at the Ashfield House (actually, Ashfield Concrete Building is more accurate), complete with pool table, continental breakfast (here that means assortment of fried things) and sparse but comfortable rooms.

Jillian checks in across the hall from us. She’s sharing a room with a couple — two Americans working here for the last month — and the girl apparently has a Valley Girl accent. I meet Jillian’s friend Ken, from Dublin, who drops her off before he’s on his way.

Jillian moved to Portland from Seattle in September, and then to Ireland to work at the Glencree Reconciliation Centre, a facility that helps students and groups from Ireland understand the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland, and to work towards a solution. As a volunteer there, she gets to work with the students and will be there through mid-December.

After dinner, Ivan crashes in the room, fast asleep. Jillian and I go to the greatest dance club in the whole of Dublin: Ri Ra (Gaelic for ‘uproar’). We close out the place at 3am, and get late night chicken kebabs under bright fluorescent lighting. Life is good.

Drive on the left.

Jillian at the Ashfield House.

Jillian practices proper hygiene.

Tuesday, 23 October: “Oh, I love that dirty water”

Ivan and I decide to separate for a couple of days. He wants to drive to the West Coast and see castles on islands and cliffs. I want to go to Glencree for the night and back to Dublin. Ivan agrees to give Jillian and I a lift to Glencree, as he’d like to see what Jillian’s place is like.

People cross the street in front of us as we drive there, with little regard to the danger. Cars have right of way here. There’s a few close calls, especially from elderly women who almost seem to *want* to run in front of Ivan’s car. We affectionately call them “Grandmakaze”.

The country roads are *narrow* out here — about the width of two Yugos when you drive rurally, which we do. A very large truck coming around the corner scares the bejeezus out of us. I sing “Drive to the Left” in my head to return my blood pressure to normal.

We arrive around 3pm (that’s 6 am 3 days prior, Seattle time), and it turns out that Ivan’s destination on his cross-island journey is 4 hours away, so he stays the night at Glencree instead. He’s put in the Turkey Room, which contains a couple of posters from Turkey, and I’m put in the Finland Room, which looks like an Ikea showroom.

The water is brown here, on account of all the peat in the area. Not potable.

We meet Jillian’s fellow volunteers — they’re from all over the globe and seem to be a tight knit family. Counting Ivan and myself, we bring the total pool of Americans to five, throwing off their ecosystem a bit.

Dinner looks like rice and chicken kiev, but the chicken bit is actually ‘quorn’ — I think they told me it’s a mushroom and corn based meat substitute. It tastes good — I don’t know if they sell this at home, but can anything replace a Vienna beef hot dog with cream cheese?

Jillian’s friend Patty, an older Irishman, brings out a guitar and sings standards. He’s very good. Ivan and I sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ with him, and then Patty plays along as I sing a folksy version of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”, where one verse in the song contains the perfect country song. That part is written by Steve Goodman (who wrote a couple of pep rally songs for the Chicago Cubs) and goes like this: Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison/and I went to pick her up in the rain/But before I could get to the station in my (broken down) pick up truck/She got runned over by a dammed old train.

Since Ivan’s here *and* has a car, we go to a local pub in Enniskerry. Ivan’s excited — there’s going to be a live band here tonight, and he hasn’t heard traditional Irish music. Little did he know we’d leave the club still waiting to hear it , as they played mostly American covers. That’s fine, I guess, but Suzanne Vega’s “My Name is Luka”? Bea (bay-a), a Spanish volunteer, cringed at the music, and her bottle of red wine with the screwtop cap. Yanik, the French volunteer, joined in with a fine wince.

They played ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. Making lemonade from lemons, Jillian and I performed a swing dance hoedown to Skynyrd’s classic, and it was a much more tasteful performance than my friend Spenser and I swing dancing in a drunken state to “Amazing Grace” at Molly Maguire’s a few weeks prior.

Ivan’s our designated driver, and drinks no absinthe. We sing ‘My Way’ on the way back to Glencree, much to the chagrin of our foreign guests. Maybe Sinatra *isn’t* the universal language.

The Weary Ass Coffee Shop.Residents of Glencree stay at… Glencree.

A view of Glencree.

Jillian and Ivan on a walk.

The tallest latrine ever.

The evening’s result — no caption necessary.

Ivan fends off a Jungle Girl attack on the resident kitty.

“I Drank What?”

20 October, Saturday: “Coal: the old nuclear”

“Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, ‘I drank what?'”
Val Kilmer, Real Genius

A very late start today. Poor Ivan — he has failed chemistry class, and is out for the count. Learned before we leave today:

  • Those weren’t 8 nuclear reactors we saw today. They’re coal-burning. Whoa.
  • Some flats here don’t come with a stove. You have to buy or rent one.
  • Same with a fridge.
  • And heat(!).
  • Renters pay property tax.
  • There’s a laid back way of things here. It took Bill and Sherry nine months to get a gas bill, for instance. There’s not as much convenience here as a Canadian or American might be used to.
  • Bill makes amazing French toast! He says the secret is Canadian maple syrup, but that can’t only be it. Sure the skill of the cook factors in?

We head out for lunch and a 2:30pm morning cup of coffee (after all, it *is* 6:30 am in Seattle) at the Cinema, a cafe with great espresso and an even better aubergine curry. Ivan orders nothing. Rather, he stares intently at a non-existent piece of dust in the air several yards away, when he’s not sleeping. Poor, poor Ivan. I bring him a glass of water and some mango juice. Still images of classic films are shown via projector onto a large wall in the cafe: The Big Lebowski. City of Lost Children. The Border…

We’re off to Edinburgh via Virgin Trains right now. Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Trains, Virgin Records, Virgin Megastore, Virgin Energy, Virgin Atlantic airlines seems to have a Gatesian quality in the ownership of many aspects of British life. The trains have a reputation for being late, and our train has the added distinction of being overcrowded. We’re SRO for a stop or two before we settle in for the 3 1/2 hour journey North, to meet my friend Mary’s friends Kenneth and Chris. Chris asked me if I wanted to do a little design work when I phoned them yesterday. I’m not averse to making a bit of coin while I’m here.

I picked up Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island”, at Bill and Sherry’s recommendation. An American writer, he lived here for 20 years with his British wife and reflects upon the cultural idiosyncracies here before their move to the United States.

Another long journey, and we’re thankful to arrive in Edinburgh. A cab ride takes us to Kenneth and Chris’s flat in the Stockbridge neighborhood, which they describe as a sort of trendy district. It’s a great place — spacious, tastefully decorated, and filled with four Macintoshes! It looks like I’ll be helping Chris put together the design for a CD cover and booklet for a BBC film archive disc he’s made, containing mostly audio clips and some video footage of old BBC shows. He describes it as a remix for a new generation.

Kenneth is a cinematographer. He was here this summer to talk to Mary about a film project she’s interested in doing next year. I pass him an envelope from her friend Tom, a fisherman he’s interested in sailing to Alaska with next summer in order to film fishing boat adventures there. Tom has given Kenneth a couple of crosshatched renderings of what he might expect — it looks like he’s going to be quite cold up there.

Ivan and I are hungry. His hunger is much worse, though — it’s that post-hangover hunger that immediately hits when the alcohol has left your system, and a tad before the healing begins. Fortunately, across the street, is a restaurant that serves… Mexican food! The burritos aren’t bad… it’s a little strange hearing “Oye Como Va” at a Mexican restaurant in Edinburgh, though.

Two Americans are sitting at a table next to us (do we all sound that nasal? Wow…), and discussing websites. Maybe they’re from Seattle? Or maybe they’re unemployed, like Ivan and I, remembering the Age of the Great Extraction of Cash from Large Corporations. Hmm…

“Poison Ivy” with Drew Barrymore and Tom Skerritt is on BBC 4 tonight. To be fair, we get that karma back when PBS shows “Are You Being Served Again?”

The UK version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ allows a contestant the chance to win one million pounds! That’s like 1.5 million dollars! Great deal, that. I wonder if the Italian version is one million lire. That’s what… 10 dollars?

And they’ve got ‘Lost’, the show where they drop three groups of two contestants at a secret location. They end up getting planted in Venezuela, and have to find their way to London, via Martinique. Really, though, they just have to get to Martinique, and book last-minute flights home with money provided when they get to Martinique. (Where’s the sport in that? Ivan and I have spent several hours doing that this trip…)

Anyway, one of the teams drops out, and one of those team members is happy to be done with it. The film crew follows him home to his wife, kid and dog, and they rent ‘Friends’ videos and order kebabs for delivery. I was thinking that the episode should have started filming here. The show would be called ‘Lost’, but a person is dropped at a location known to them (say, in front of the living room tv with kebabs and Friends videos) and then has to discover themselves through risk-taking. Maybe they become gurus or something in the process.

Swearing and nudity are allowed on television here. Most of the swear words are British, so I have little idea what they mean, and why they are swear words in the first place. Pratt? Bugger? Londoner?

As I write this entry at Kenneth’s place, a group of women are returning from a pub and very loudly singing “Summer Nights”.

I like the vibe here — it’s a bit more laid back than London.

Ivan, post-absinthe, on a Virgin Train to Edinburgh.

Dooks, member of the All Stars.

Kenneth and Dooks explain the finer points of Scottish comedy.

Sunday, 21 October: “FECK! ARSE! DRINK!”

Chris keeps me busy today after breakfast. I spend most of the day helping him design the CD cover and booklet. We order in Chinese food and watch ‘Father Ted’. One of the characters, Father Jack Hackett, is so memorable that I’ve ended up shouting his curse words sporadically, sort of like Irish Tourette’s, to this day.

Later, on a mini pub crawl, I find out I’m sitting next to Mark O’Donnell, part of a Scottish TV comedy series called “Velvet Soup”! Kenneth, Chris and I talk to him for a few minutes. He’s surprised anyone outside of the UK has seen the show, but I let him know that I saw it when I was visiting Scotland this summer. He finds out tomorrow if the show is picked up for a second season — fingers crossed.

Anne Robinson is on the front cover of a Sunday newspaper magazine. Anne, tell me *I* am the weakest link! Hello!

They get Ricky Lake and Montel Williams here. To be fair, we get that karma back when PBS shows “Are You Being Served Again?”

Night falls on an Anne Robinson photo.

“The Long Dark Coach Ride of the Soul”

Friday, 19 October: “When is Budweiser not a Budweiser?”

Ivan and I head north to Nottingham, and decide to save a little money and take the bus. Only 13 pounds and a 3 1/2 hour ride, or so we think.

At the bus station: more espresso from a machine. I liken these contraptions to those food making machines in Star Trek — you press a button and out pops beef stroganoff and a vintage chianti. Really, how can a machine replace a human being in this regard? At individual tasks, machines can do the trick, but a proper cup of espresso requires the grinding of beans, the steaming of milk, and the creation of Georgia O’Keeffe-like patterns in the milk. (Mental note: perhaps I spend too much time talking about coffee. Maybe I should spend my time getting a job or going to school or something).

The bus was comfortable if you like to spend three hours in a contracted yoga position. To be fair, it’s not like riding Greyhound and there’s no chicken or goats that roam the aisles or attack you from the storage compartments, but a bus’s main fault is that it’s attached to a road, and a road is attached to traffic and traffic extends our tiny bus journey by over an hour.

We meet my friend Sherry at the bus terminal. Leaving the bus is one of the most joyful expressions I experience today. I decide it’s best to vent the journey through a crutch, so we stop at Marks and Spencer, pick up a couple of bottles of wine, and head back to her and her husband Bill’s flat.

They’ve got a great place — the flat is fully furnished and I make my way to the most comfortable couch in the history of the universe ever and enjoy a glass of shiraz. (Bill and Sherry, thank you so much for the accommodation!)

Nottingham is very much a college town, and when we head out in the evening that fact makes itself very well known to us. We head over to a place called The Alley Cafe, a tiny tucked-away Vegetarian restaurant and bar. Ivan and I enjoy a bottle each of a Czech beer called Budweiser Budvar — apparently no relation, and it tastes worlds better than the American macrobrew of the same name. This and the two bottles of wine make for the beginning of what is to be a fantastic evening.

A DJ spins funk and soul hits from the 60s. Apparently this genre of music is making a comeback here. I welcome it, especially after the difficult listening hour of 80s soft hits at the Vietnamese restaurant in London.

Bar hopping! The Pitcher and Piano is our first stop, a desanctified church turned into a beautifully-sytled drinking establishment. While posh, it’s too crowded (and playing Ricky Martin), so we head across the street to The Pit and the Pendulum, a very Poe-themed bar. I wish the bars were this nice when I was at University. We place orders — I stick to Guinness. Ivan orders absinthe, a strange liquid likely made from gasoline and paint thinner, and an illegal substance in the United States. He’s never had it before, and I sense a chemistry accident will happen shortly.

The interior of the pit has all the appearance of an Edgar Allan Poe setting, except Edgar Allan Poe probably never played Top 40 dance music at his home. Still the visual aesthetic keeps us interested.

I’m intrigued by the ritual of college men-boys hitting on college girls. Every guy in the place is dressed the same: trousers, button down shirt and sensible shoes. Women, on the other hand, are wearing tight fitting, revealing synthetic clothing substitues, whether they should be or not. Their style of dress is much more daring than anything I’ve seen stateside, and I respect the fact that there seems to be less self-consciousness about one’s figure here.

We head across the street to a bar called ‘The Social Club’. There’s a cover, but Sherry gets us in without charge. (I love that. This guy Max I knew in Vancouver, BC, used to play saxophone at the Purple Onion Cabaret Lounge. There’d be a chain of people around the block waiting to enter, but Max would get us in through the side entrance, Good Fellas-style). The upstairs floor is playing funk and soul music! A couple of Guinness (Guinneii?) for me, and people-watching.
I meet a guy named Mark who wants to work as a programmer for Microsoft (Apologies in advance to Grant, who might be getting an email from a guy named Mark who wants to be a programmer at Microsoft).

I meet a guy named Dan who works at The Social Club and who’s flying to Vancouver via Seattle to see his girlfriend. (Apologies in advance to self, who might be getting an email from a guy named Dan from The Social Club). To do: furnish Dan with a list of nightclubs a guy with a voice and a guitar might play. Suggestions: the Breakroom, the Crocodile, and the Central might be a good start.

Bill left the club earlier, so Ivan, Sherry and I stumble home. Ivan’s *really* sauced. This promises to be a rough night and following day for him.

Bill and Sherry, Mortie, Ivan at the Alley Cafe.

Bill, Sherry and Ivan (sans absinthe).


Homage to small rodent.

Early skateboard park.

Ceiling for my dream house.

“Basketball under Glass”

Wednesday, 17 October: “Solidly colored canvas or masterpiece?”

I knew Ivan and I could kill two birds with one stone today – to see great modern art and drink great espresso. Solution: the Tate Modern. The Tate has two pay-per-view events today – an exhibition on surrealism, and a Katharina Fritsch retrospective. We have no idea who KF is, save for the placement of a rat on her promotional posters. These exhibitions cost 10 pounds, so we went right to the free stuff, being proper “Let’s Go” travellers.

Of note:

Concert for Anarchy: An upturned piano suspended from the ceiling converts classical music to noise. The keyboard ejects itself, then slowly withdraws back into the piano over several minutes. The lid closes. Repeat as necessary.

De Stijl (Dih Shtill): These are the kids who used only horizontal and vertical lines in their work. One fellow in the group, named Van Doesburg, decided to use diagonal lines. This freaked out Mondrian, one of the group’s other members, and he promptly quit the group. Shallow victory or playfield of the insane? You be the judge.

Basketballs under Glass: Former stockbroker-turned-artist Jeff Koons suspended three basketballs in a large glass tank, equally positioned from the glass and from one another. He explains that the basketballs, positioned as weightless objects, approach the perfect state, which he envisions as death. I’m thinking that he was very good at manipulating the stock market, too.

Within view of the Tate is the Millenium Bridge (several architectural items in London have been emblazoned with the “Millenium” prefix, already dating their existence), a beautifully designed, pedestrian-only suspension bridge. While I gandered, an American who looked a lot like Dale Chihuly (sans eye-patch), informed us that on the bridge’s inauguration day, tens of thousands of people traversed it, causing it to sway so horribly that it had to be shut down. It’s set to open by the end of the year. Form: 1, function: 0.

The destination *is* the reward. Illy Espresso at the Tate! I’m such a coffee snob!) Ivan and I are surrounded by multicultural art school girls of doom. I’m reminded of a Joy Division t-shirt I used to wear proudly.

Ivan’s not into modern art, and while I agree that some of the work here is nothing more than shysterism, there *is* some wonderful stuff here.

At the Tower of London today, the tour guide told us that the Earl of Essex, the only male execution victim there, didn’t expire after the first throw of the ax. Apparently, three times *is* a charm.

I finished Nick Hornby’s “About a Boy” today. It’s a good read. I wish I could read faster than one word a day, though… I stopped “War and Peace” after “It was”. Anyway, that’s been replaced by “Only in London W2” by Hanan al-Shaykh. She’s an Arab writer living in London, and I picked it up based on its description: A flight from Dubai to London hits turbulence and brings together four people from different ends of the Arabic world. It seems like a compelling read – I’m unsure if my decision to buy it is influenced by September 11th.

Ivan is drawing a likeness of me at the King’s Cross/St.Pancras station coffee shop (Mental note: erase other mental note about staying away from coffee shops at tube stations). Judging by the rendering, it seems that I’m in dire need of a shave.

We meet two more of Ivan’s friends, David and P. Smith, at the station, and along with Iain and Storme, wander to a pub called the Rocket, which has frequent drinker discount cards (Mental note: I think I have an idea for Molly Maguire’s, my weekly drinking establishment). I overhear a group of people mention a karaoke night here on Thursday! They emerge with a disclaimer — the place is under new management, and may not have this distinctive night anymore. Sad if true, as there is always room for more karaoke.

A long walk takes us to Leicester (“Lester”) Square (tourist central) and to a Vietnamese restaurant. We’re shuffled upstairs where a waitress takes our orders with chilling Terminator-like efficiency. Within viewing distance at the intersection outside is a 30-foot-tall likeness of Jackie Mason’s face. Startling. Our dinner guests don’t know who he is, but sci-fi/dungeons-and-dragons-like conversation saturates the air anyway. I do my best to stay awake. They *are* really nice people, and are entitled to their hobbies, even if it’s a hobby I haven’t personally been involved with since I was half my age.

Pubs close at 11pm. Bugger. Dance clubs stay open late. Yes!

(more text follows photos below)

Tate Ceiling.

Jungle Girl at the Tate.

Tate Outside.

Jungle Girl and the nice bowguns.

London (not Millenium) Bridge.

A London Guard.

Yes, that is Jackie Mason.

David, Storme, Iain, P.Smith and Ivan.

Karaoke night?

The view from the drink.

Thursday, 18 October: “Shove it up your arse!”

Nothing happened today.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Ivan, Vika, Iain, Storme and I eat lunch today at a pub, and I have the pleasure of experiencing my favorite British dessert, sticky toffee pudding, originally introduced to me during a summer trip to Scotland. It’s sort of a bready-sugar thing served warm with custard. You can buy it at the grocery stores here in a can. Put can in hot boiling water. Wait. Open can onto plate. It sounds better than I’m describing it. Really.

Ivan and I separate for the day. I wander around to Covent Garden, and enjoy coffee not served from a machine. The sun’s out and it’s 60 degrees. Beautiful. A busquing street kid tells the customers at the table next to me to shove something up their arse. I was only eavesdropping, so I’m unsure as to the identity of the item intended for shoving.

A group of Hare Krishna parade past me, drumming, singing and dancing. Handily, they have written the lyrics to what they’re singing on a large sign displayed proudly above them. It’s easy, though: Hare, Hare, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Krishna… Lather, rinse, repeat.

A group of violinists (violinii?) in an alcove below play classical music, but just dove into some Greek or Russian dancing-clapping thing.

I later amble past the Theatre District, and one of the houses is playing ‘Cats’. Can’t we just move on?

During a short shopping spree, I successfully secure the second season of “The League of Gentlemen” and “Ali G: Aiii”. Life is good.

It turns out Ivan and I are in the same Internet cafe last night, and that’s how we run into each other. We eat at a touristy chain restaurant called Garfunkel’s, where the deep-fried Vegetarian kiev burger doesn’t go so well with the too-fresh merlot. Maybe I should have ordered a white zinfandel?

On the way home on the Tube, two men who look like you wouldn’t want to fight with at a pub sit across the aisle from us. One is showing the other a video game on his cellphone. Then they send each other text messages on their cellphones. After they bore of that, one of them kisses the other’s shoulder and leans his head there for the rest of their journey. Book does not equal cover.

I’m pleasantly surprised by this city, and the many ways in which the surprises are received.

Musicians at Covent Garden.

The new Mini Cooper, on display in the Theatre District.

Photo slideshow: 4 of 4

Photo slideshow for Europe, part 4 of 4:

Photo Slideshow: 3 of 4

Photo slideshow for Europe, part 3 of 4:

Photo slideshow: 2 of 4

Photo slideshow for Europe, part 2 of 4: