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Saturday, 30 October 2010

A strange dream in San Francisco

That night I had a strange dream. A tall Canadian woman stared at me from a snowy wilderness. “My name is Renee Miller,” she said.

I tried to drag myself away, wondering whether it was a dodgy Dim Sum, or an excess of beer.

“And you’re tagged.” She laughed, causing a small avalanche.

Was that the same as ‘branded’? “What do you mean, tagged?” I said, struggling to wake and finding I couldn’t.

Her voice was remorseless. “But in exchange……You will be granted an award…”

Dollar Bills, lots of them, flashed before my eyes.

“…The kickass, awesome, most impressive, shiny, blog award.”

"I don’t have a blog,” I said it like I knew what one was.

“But you will.” Her voice was becoming impatient and the thought of what this Canadian Amazon might do if made angry, alarmed me greatly.

“Okay,” I said, admitting defeat. “What do you want from me?”

Her voice at once became soothing. “Just answer ten questions, Mike, and you’ll never see me again.”

“And I get this ‘Kickass, awesome, most impressive, shiny, blog award?'"

“You have my word.”

The questions came from nowhere and a voice other than mine answered:

1. If you blog anonymously are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now?

I can’t blog anonymously. The whole point of Record of a Baffled Spirit is in creating a family and historical record. Even if I changed the family surname to Anon such a timid foray into cyberspace would be a little strange.

2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side:
Doing my O levels and A levels (essential university entrance exams) in two years rather than the normal four years – because I realised I could.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

Strange eyebrows

4. What is your favourite summer cold drink?

Beer, cold white wine, grapefruit juice chilled. But in very hot weather – water, lots of it.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

Write, read, swim, walk, listen to radio, drink unobserved in country pubs

6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

Success as a writer, and a hopeful death

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

Undoubtedly shy. Behind a hardened carapace the fear of others is still there, muttering blindly to itself…Shut up; are you mad? Get away from there. Don’t say anything. These people are dangerous!

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment of your life what would you see?

My parents’ death. You don’t miss them till they’re gone

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

No, I’m happy with myself. Not smug but accepting what I am and what I’m not

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

Read. I hate talking on phones.

"My calling card," she said, before disappearing. A white card fluttered on to the pillow. It looked like snow and melted as I read:


It didn't make sense and I slept, determined on pondering these things in the morning.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Dim sums and beer

Wednesday July 21st

The following day we wasted much of the morning haunting the lobby and indulging in small talk, saying goodbyes. I went for a drink with a deflated Doug who was lamenting the fact that for him the adventure was over. Then it was off to the bus-station to see off Daghmar Baron and Kay. Daghmar was homesick and was cutting her holiday short to see her boy-friend back home. That was beyond me. I’m not that romantic and have never been homesick. It’s always there, sometime or other. But Daghmar was beautiful and the boy friend was immensely lucky – unless she took another look at him and realised what she had just given up.

After they’d gone we decided to clear our heads from the night before and walk the Golden Gate Bridge. The sky was a soft blue, the air crisp and we hiked twelve miles along the coastline checking out the mansions.

It was thirsty work and we fantasised on our big farewell meal later that evening - down to the very last noodle. China town was going to be good.

But, as John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans.” When I got back to the hotel there was a note from my cousin Kathy. She and the family were driving down from Seattle for another, perhaps final re-union.

It was an immensely generous thing for her to do, but also, for me, a Frasier moment, when two sacred moments over-lapped. Much neurotic pacing followed as I worked out the options:

Not seeing Kathy and family – unthinkable.

Not attending the final farewell dinner – almost unthinkable.

I watched the group leave the hotel en-route to China-town and the Far East Café. I'd come up with a plan. The two celebrations could converge and an extra table was booked.

Life is what happens etc. Kathy was unavoidably late. Worse than that they’d already eaten and had no room for anything more. Their ‘can do’ attitude resulted in them finding a table in the adjoining bar whilst I went to the other end of the room to booths reserved for the Aventours trip.

The evening was spent with me flitting from one emotional centre to the other – my cousins who likely I wouldn’t see again - and the group I’d travelled halfway across America with. It meant twice the drinking as the tears, farewells and toasts became more intense in the booths, and the beers continued to pile up on Kathy and Rick’s table. Between Dim Sum and beer I didn’t know whether I was coming or going or what I said or did or how I got home. At last the evening ended and, nursed by a hundred angels, I eventually found my bed

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Problem solving in San Francisco

Tuesday July 20th

Some days later I was attempting ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on a mouth-organ, bought in San Francisco. It had been driving the coach mad, and I’d been relegated to a palm tree in Santa Barbara to practice one final time.

It had started off so innocently on our second day in San Francisco. Veronique, Marjian, Roland and myself had just finished breakfast at a neighbouring diner. There were things to do that day, not many but enough to fill a hot blue morning. I had to locate a tax office to sort out my departure papers. Roland accompanied me because he had the vague idea he wanted to buy a bag, and en-route, I was suddenly struck with a burning desire to buy a mouth-organ – two mouth-organs in A and D.

I found San Francisco an easy city to navigate and we were helped by the shopkeeper who showed us a short-cut, which involved a detour down Turk Street. It was a street of beautiful houses but I was feeling more irritable than aesthetically attuned. Roland was beginning to wear me down, his tendency to take charge whenever he could. This was probably imaginary, resentment fuelled by being one of too many people cooped up on a bus for a little too long. Bonding has its downsides – which is why alcohol has its uses.

An American attitude is ‘if there’s a problem – solve it.’ The British attitude veers more to ‘if there’s a problem live with it’. My attitude then was ‘if there’s a problem drink it away’. All three attitudes have their merits. Not all problems can be solved and alcohol makes the second option more bearable. Roland was of a like mind and so we went looking for a bar – in this case an’ English Pub’ called The Rosebud.

The problem here was that it was too English to be authentic. Every conceivable variant of the pastiche was crammed into its walls. Still, it sold Guinness, and the problem evaporated in an agreeable blur.

Suitably refreshed and friends once more we walked to the Hyatt Regency which looked like something from Babylon…well, after a Guinness or six. Its interior was a sensory feast and made us feel like two camel herders come straight from the desert.
The evening ended in another party in Gary’s room, one even wilder because too many of us didn’t want the party to end.

Note. No blog for short time. Computer in for repair.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Hearts left in San Francisco

Monday July 19th

Golden Gate refers to Golden Gate Strait—a name that originated around 1846.
The actual Bridge was completed after more than four years of construction at a cost of $35 million. It was opened on May 28, 1937 at twelve o'clock noon when President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House announcing the event. I guess it was part of Roosevelt's huge job creation schemes that helped get America out of the depression. Perhaps they thought bolder in those days.

San Francisco was where many of us were going to say our goodbyes. It was the halfway mark of the tour. I and a few others were carrying on for the second leg, and periodically I pinched myself unable to believe my good fortune.

We left Yosemite late because some serious stocktaking had to be done, and then, at last, the bus rolled off. I might offend many who live in the area but as we approached San Francisco, I found the scenery pleasant but bland: rolling yellow grass hills, a soft blue sky. It reminded me a little of a children’s picture book. Unthreatening. Uninteresting. Hmm…what does that say about me? I find the threatening, interesting? I blame it on my childhood.

The Golden Gate Bridge (The reddish brown gate bridge doesn’t really cut it I guess) came into view, and as we watched it evaporated in mist. In the distance we saw the Hyatt Regency hotel, which resembled something from Babylon or Krypton.

The ‘Team’ treated us all to pizza and beer in an over the top Pizza Parlour and now I’m searching my mind.

What exactly did that mean ‘over the top’? Note to self. Be specific in diaries. You see, somewhere on this trip we went to a place that had ‘One Million Years BC toilets. As you peed, pterodactyls would swoop over you; dinosaurs lower an avuncular head to see whether what you were holding was worth their interest. It was most distracting; certainly enough to inhibit a reasonable flow. But worse, much worse than that - we were essentially doing our business in a tourist attraction. It was the devil’s own job to pretend not to notice crocodile lines of mixed sex tours walking by…and pausing.

But though the memory is clear, my diaries don’t record where it was. Maybe someone out there can help me.

At four pm we hit our hotel, an interesting place, just on the right side of seediness. At six pm we met in the lobby and took a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf to eat king crab. The mood was sombre, for the crabs especially so. There were people leaving soon that we would never see again. An intense bonding was falling apart. There was only one answer. The obvious one: A drinks party in Gary’s room that over-spilled into the corridor outside. So many group hugs, so little time.

Friday, 1 October 2010

They are killers

Sunday 18th July

Yosemite is breathtaking, its history less so. The valley was named by L H Bunnell of the Mariposa Battalion in 1851. He named it in honor of the tribe they were about to dispossess and remove.

“I could not see any necessity for going to a foreign country for a name for
American scenery—the grandest that had ever yet been looked upon. That it would be better to give it an Indian name than to import a strange and inexpressive one; that the name of the tribe who had occupied it, would be more appropriate than any I had heard suggested.” I then proposed “that we give the valley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was suggestive, euphonious, and certainly American; that by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indians which we met leaving their homes in this valley, perhaps never to return, would be perpetuated.”
. . . .

I love the distancing in that last sentence, as if somehow this tribe was leaving paradise from their own free will.

Officialdom says that the Ahwahneechee of Yosemite became extinct in the C19th. The awkward fact remains that since 1851 the Federal Government has evicted Yosemite tribes from the park in 1906, 1929, and 1969. Never mind. There is a reconstructed ‘Indian Village’ now located behind the Yosemite Museum, inhabited by tourists.

Yosemite is full of irony, even its name. When L H Bunnell named it, he got it wrong. Bunnell thought Yosemite meant ‘Grizzly Bear’ which it doesn’t. The confusion arose from the Miwok word ïsümat.i, which does mean “grizzly bear.” However the tribe that lived in the valley of Yosemite were the Ahwahneechee. Their neighbours though, had a different name for them. The Southern Miwok referred to them as the ‘yohhemeti’ and the Central Miwok called them the Yossemeti. Both words mean the same – ‘They are killers’. Nice.

Now it is just a very clean park with a free bus service taking you wherever you wanted to go in a designated ‘wilderness’. It is a small fragment of paradise and as such, private cars are discouraged as indeed are ‘down-and-outs’ from San Francisco. I was told that they were a bigger menace than adventurous bears, lured by the promise of the 5 cent deposits on any cans and bottles they collect. I didn’t get the logic of the criticism implied.

Mirror Lake
Note bottom left hand corner, a bare-bottom, nose or thumb

That afternoon we swam and cavorted in Mirror Lake, which, we were told, would end up as a water-meadow in twenty years time through a build up of silt. (I wonder if it ever did). Then however it was crystal clear and reflected a Disney blue sky.
We saw the designated Sequoia and duly posed. These are truly wonderful time-machines standing patiently for over 3,500 years just so Keyton could one day bounce in a cavity, his arms extended in triumph. In line with the triviality of the moment, we had Chicken Italienne for dinner, followed by Schnapps in the adjoining bar and later a disco.

A tree

Keyton in a tree, stern

Keyton in a tree bouncing.

In this valley of ‘They who kill’ we spent the night drenching a blindfolded Gary, Greg, and Barbara in spaghetti, shaving foam, and buckets of water. It was one way of thanking them. Then again we may have simply been possessed by the spirit of the Ahwahneechee, in which case things could have been worse.

And now a bed time story. The Ahwahneechee people of Yosemite Valley called the waterfall "Cholock" and believed that the plunge pool at its base was inhabited by the spirits of several witches, called the Poloti. An Ahwaneechee folktale describes a woman going to fetch a pail of water from the pool, and drawing it out full of snakes. Later that night, after the woman had trespassed into their territory, the spirits caused the woman's house to be sucked into the pool by a powerful wind, taking the woman and her newborn baby with her.