Sunday, 13 May 2007

North America offers warm welcome


A: And so to the USA and Canada, where we saw many old friends and family, drove many miles and ate many meals. We started off (after taking ages to filter thro´"Homeland Security") in Los Angeles being met by Colin Churchill, now married to Deva. They made us welcome in their home and gave us a flying tour of LA and the coastal road and helped us track down a hire car....sadly not the pink Cadillac of my fantasies but a practical white Japanese saloon with efficient air con for the detour through Death Valley which comes hedged with warnings about not breaking down..
(T: Although I´m leaving the writing of this one mainly to Alison, I´d like to make it clear that whatever the photo may suggest I did remember to drive on the right side of the road , even in the desert, and wrong turnings were mainly the fault of navigators busy dreaming about cadillacs. And to say how nice it was not only to see Colin for the first time for 28 years but also to play a guitar for the first time for 4 months. Back in Hong Kong in the 1970s he and I used to do an Arlo Guthrie song called Coming into Los Angelees... which made much more sense this time around. PS the cage beside him contains a large snake...)

A: So...off we went on the 40 lane freeway (slight exaggeration) thro´LA to Tucson to visit my Mom´s oldest friend Margaret Tilford, spending the night en route in the first of several motels (all run by Indians, Anu!) Very good to see Margaret and even learn a new story about my Mom´s violin playing, and we had my birthday tea with her. Birthday night deep in the Arizona desert in the Observatory Inn - 3 bedrooms - we had the Galaxy Room complete with private terrace with telescopes, Star War figures, galaxy carpets and lit up ceiling with stars - fantastic! We were warned not to go too far away as "everything in the desert has a poisonous bite" - and then a small rabbit hopped past! Wonderful birds there too, as the owners have a small lake nearby. We also managed a flying visit to Tombstone and saw Boot Hill.

In the picture you see Alison rescuing a Wombat from a cactus. (A saguaro, notes Wom, who insisted on featuring at least once in this blog and saying Hi to Gilda, Lewis, Sara, etc).
Tim takes over to avoid any further lowering of standards: Avoiding ambush by Indians, rattlesnakes and the swarms of long-haired middle-aged motorbike riders who kept appearing in my mirror, we sped north to sounds of "By the Time I get to Phoenix"... until we finally got there. Then it was into the red hills and green pines of Sedona, with its laid-back artistic types living in weird and wonderful houses perched on rocks -- and then into the even bigger -- and pinker -- hills of the Grand Canyon. We decided against the 9-hour trip to the bottom and back with a mule, given my experiences in Greece, but were suitably impressed by the grandeur of it all, both at sunrise and sunset. We even saw a 3-D movie about it so we could at least pretend we were doing the hang-gliding tour. All very harsh and dry, though, after the lush greens and gentle curves of the Andes.
We drove on via Route 66 -- we managed to find the longest surviving stretch of it, most of it having been swallowed up by new interstate superhighways -- and at least saw some pink cadillacs even if Alison wasn´t able to ride in them. The Hoover Dam looked like one of those vast villains´HQs they have at the end of Bond movies.
In Las Vegas, we were supposed to stay at a hotel called the Barbary Coast... After an hour or two of driving round gawking like country hicks at the gross and gorgeous displays and fountains and things, we found it in the middle of a giant casino -- under its new name of Bill´s Bar and Gaming Hall. I proceeded to lose all my money in 30 seconds at blackjack, but luckily only had 30 dollars on me.
From Vegas, on across aforementioned Death Valley and over the Sierra Nevada, which is what you see in the Wrong Way photo at the top. The pass we went over had only opened the prevous day after being closed all winter and was still thick with snow. Down on the other side past gushing mountain streams and log cabins into quiet green Californian pastures and wineries... including one belonging to my old friend and guru Parnell.
I´d stayed there seven years ago in a simple little farmhouse ... Parnell´s now almost totally rebuilt it into a magnificent Dallas-style ranch-house...doing everything himself of course. We settled into a restful weekend with him and Jan, daughters Marie (14) and Sara (11) plus numerous horses, dogs, cats, coyotes etc. A new white grape (pinot grigiot) had recently been grafted on to the old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, so between bottles of the old stuff we went looking for signs of growth in the new. Parnell and Jan also manage to do fulltime jobs, by the way, as doctor and vet respectively.

A: And then off to Pacifica, just south of San Francisco where we saw a whale at breakfast (he was in the bay) drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and discovered one of T´s snooker venues in a very shady part of town had closed down after a drugs bust - our informant drew his finger across his throat and hinted we should leave.
So we went off to Vancouver to be met by my Canadian cousins Mary & Sarah. They whizzed us off to Mary´s home in Port Coquitlam, where one of her daughters Lisa lives upstairs with her husband Julio and 2 small children. Another daughter Kathrine was visiting and Mary´s husband Bill came back from work to complete our dinner table. Family get-together got even better when Mary & Bill organised us out on ferries to Saltspring Island to stay a couple of nights with the last Canadian cousin, Lissie and her husband Oleh. For all McEwans worried about Oleh I can only say he looked very well, was in good spirits and can carve a mean salmon as he demonstrated when there was another large gathering to meet Lissie´s daughter Katya(Heather) and her partner Steve and daughter Emily. We also saw 2 eagles who live very near Lissie´s lovely house. Then back to the mainland for a final get-together with Young Billy and his little daughter Emma at Mary´s.
The weather (do I need to say?) was cool, damp and grey but it meant Vancouver looked incredibly green with all the wild fruit trees full of blossom - very lovely. Big thanks to Mary for getting us to Victoria University and to Lissie for Auntie Kate´s bracelet - it means a lot to me!
Shopping in New York was next on the agenda - only for me to realise I´d lost the knack over the last 4 months´abstinence. Fully intended at least a hat for the June wedding but despite much pavement pounding and window shopping the rucksacks are as light as ever...but we had a great time buzzing about on the subways - so safe and clean now! - popping up at landmarks all over Manhattan and enjoying The Sunshine! One of the best things was eavesdropping on loud snatches of NY conversation - fantastic. To our delight, Zafar came over and we had a family dinner with him, his Dad and Padma - nice to catch up with them too - and to see Zaf at home in his second city.
We also managed to see *Michael ( now v important with UN) and Robbie (also v important, I hasten to add, especially with students of Tibetan at Columbia) for dinner. So we´ve plumped up nicely on this part of the tour. I find American pancakes with maple syrup and bacon - "short stack? Short stack? Give me the Lonnggg Stack!"- irresistable...
Tim got to see Strawberry Fields in Central Park, we did theatre on Broadway, the Met., ate bagels, rendezvoused with 2 new American friends from the Inca Trail.... so apart from the shopping failure all went swimmingly.

*That rounds up Dateline East Asia, I believe? If not (quite) its successor programme, East Asia Today....and we don´t meet co-founder Simon till June 24 at King´s Cross.
And now here we are, sitting at Anniewan´s Apple relaxing in Spain (and celebrating West Ham´s brilliant survival of course)...last entry will be coming up shortly.

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