Archive for January, 2009

Oh the journey does indeed matter

January 31, 2009

My fingerprint tale of woe continues.  Yesterday brought yet another rejection from the California Dept of Justice (American dollar check lacks American street address).  So, instead of maundering on about that, I’ll share a much more exciting story, of how Fred got from St. Andrews to Berlin in 36 hours and 8 minutes…and, yes, Carole, there are pictures.  (Fred has approved my sharing this with you all).

Here’s the set up: every year, between semesters, the students at St Andrews have a charity race that takes them, in groups of 2 and 3, from school to a designated city in Europe.  The point is to get there first AND spend as little money as possible, with all leftover travel money going to the charities.  If you need  details, here’s a website.

And now, here’s Fred’s somewhat breathless account:


Hello! I’m back from Berlin, arrived here around 2:30 yesterday afternoon. 

On Monday morning we got to the quad at 7:30 to get on the buses to our drop points. Anna [his racing partner] and I were dropped with two other groups at the junction of the A68 and A1 just south of Edinburgh. Using our banner and standing at the roundabout we got a ride after only about 20 mins with two RAF pilots driving back south from training near Aberdeen. Sam and Andre had always wanted to pick up hitchhikers and they were pretty sure they weren’t allowed to in the RAF owned car and they didn’t think they’d be able to squeeze us in with all their gear, but they did. They were going to take us as far as the junction of the A1 and the A15 (which leads to Hull) but then they decided to take us down the A15 as far as the Humber Bridge and called their boss saying they were doing a detour because of road works. The dropped us at the bridge. But then a little problem. They told us that Hullhull-bridgewas just across the bridge. We debated whether to try and blag a bus or walk across and decided walking would be fun. Well we got all the way across this bridge (which seemed longer than the Golden Gate) only to discover that Hull was back on the original side. However by that time it was dark and we were too tired to walk back across. We tried our banner again, but there were no good places for cars to stop so there was little hope of that working. We retreated to the nearby town of Barton on Humber which is certainly the dullest town in England. All the buildings were grey, the cars were grey, the sky was grey. The very, very few people who were out were dodgy looking chavs lurking about in corners. It was not a nice place. We had to wait an hour for the last bus of the day to Hull and we prayed that it would in fact come. With luck it did and we got a free ride to Hull station. From there we managed to get a free taxi to the ferry terminal, but unfortunately the ferry company refused to make any concessions further than giving us family discounts, so I had to charge the ferry crossing. We ferry-meal    spent the night on the ship and managed to blag free all you can eat dinner and    breakfast from the crew. After a warm bed and a hot shower    we disembarked around 10am in Rotterdam. We had arranged a ride with an      English businessman on the ferry to take us to Rotterdam and away from the    ferry terminal but he never showed, which turned out for the better. We were able to blag a free ride on the P&O bus to Amsterdam with another group of Race 2 Berliners whom we spent the rest of the journey with. In Amsterdam we were asked about our matching yellow shirts and given €50 by a Dutch lady. We asked a conductor for a ride on a regional Dutch train to Hilversum, the station where we could catch the Intercity to Berlin. In Hilversum we managed to get a free ride as far as the German border where the conductor said there was a crew change and we would have to ask the next conductor if we could continue. In Bad Bentheim, the first stop in Germany, we were sadly denied free passage by the new conductor. We spent 2 hours in the tiny town waiting for the next train during which time we had a genuine German food: chips (French fries)! We decided to write out exactly what we were doing in German in case the next conductor didn’t speak English. He did however, although he enjoyed our rather terrible German grammar. He happily gavewriting-out-the-pleas-in-german us a ride as far as the next crew change in Hanover and was very chatty and gave us free coffee. In Hanover we didn’t even need to ask. One of the lady conductors who was getting off had a few rapid German words with the new conductor who looked at us and went “ja, ja” and waved us back on the train. We got to Berlin about 9:30pm on Tuesday. We had some difficulty navigating the S Bhan to the hostel but the S Bhan ticket saleswoman was very excited to see students who “go study by Prince William” lol. We made it to the hostel at 10:30 and came in joint 6th place out of about 120 groups with finish-line-berlina total time of 36hrs 8mins. We spent Wednesday and Thursday in Berlin and saw Checkpoint Charlie,tourist-in-berlin the Brandenburg Gate, KaDeWe department store, and went up the new dome of the Reichstag. It was all loads of fun and perhaps the worst part of the whole trip was when we mistakenly took the wrong bus yesterday from Edinburgh Airport and ended up on a 2.5 hour 10MPH journey through every single tiny town in Fife. But we did it.

My current literary life

January 30, 2009

While there is as little truth in the stereotype that librarians go around shushing everyone in sight as that of farmers showing up at the dinner table barefoot and chewing on a blade of hay, they (the librarians, and probably some farmers) do go around asking each other what they are reading right now.

I’ve just had a weekend of this. For me, it’s a cringe-worthy question, mostly because if I answer truthfully (and I always do), I am met with either a quizzical look or a good eye-roll. (There are exceptions, of course, to this generality.) But it continues to be a fine book year (here year being the most recent twelve months, not the calendar year or even the fiscal). And I continue to get down with all manner of new ones–and some old buddies in spite of what “everyone” expects that I should be reading instead.

Yesterday, for instance, inspired by the excellent new group biography, The Beats: A Graphic History, which has been my ferry reading the past couple days, I found myself rereading “Howl” and then “America” (the latter better than I’d remembered it).

And then I moved on to Highway to Hell, a more literary YA novel than the title–or the cover illustration–suggests. But not before making a side step back to the somewhat irritating Pierre Hadot interviews collected in The Present Alone Is Our Happiness (irritating because the two interviewers are so out of synch with each other that it’s like watching a tug of war between parents, unhappy in their marriage, vying for the kids).

So, librarian or not, what are you reading? I promise not to roll my eyes, twitch or otherwise judge how you spend your book time.

Good manners

January 29, 2009

For years I’ve believed that simple good manners could save dire political situations, especially in the workplace, and bad manners can sink them.  Today’s local news offers some substantiation for this, first in the form of a news article about a store clerk who simply asked (nicely) that the would-be holdup man please leave, and second, in the variety of finger pointing on the topic of who should shovel around the mail box (not an argument at my house, given that there is no mail box and my predilection for shoveling).

Sometimes, I think, bad manners is just about laziness.  Certainly there are a lot of very good reasons, having nothing to do with politeness, that some folks can’t shovel and that other folks drive fast through slush puddles and splash pedestrians.  Other times, these traps are the result of plain bad manners, however.

Does that matter?  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would indicate that manners kick in at some point after physiological and safety needs are met.  So, do poor manners indicate that a vast number of seemingly middle class folks are without these basics?  Or is it all an ironic joke on Emily Post and Charlotte Ford:  people don’t want to seem showy about their needs being well met and so they practice bad manners so no one catches on to the fact that life is basically pretty good?  My mother would be quick to point out that that’s the dif between manners and etiquette: manners help others to feel comfortable, while etiquette can get enmeshed in acting in accord with someone else’s rules.

The clerk in Lower Sackville is a model of why good manners make sense:  he helped make the other fellow feel comfortable enough to rethink the situation and choose an alternative.

The fleet and the not so much

January 28, 2009

A few hours before he left for the airport in Halifax to collect me from my flight from Denver-via-Toronto, Bob heard from Fred that our son had successfully hitchhiked from St Andrews to Berlin, his team coming in 6th in a field of 120. So, while I was dozing through the air, another family member clearly showed more gumption.  And poor Bob got to wonder Who’s on First.

Apparently, the phone call wasn’t the one full of stories so the only other details Bob acquired include the one about Fred getting a lift from a couple of RAF officers.  ‘Fred’ and ‘RAF officers’ in the same sentence strains credulity. But then, I was the recipient of a black feather boa at one point during the weekend and that’s a bit hard on the imagination as well.

That’s the beauty of travel:  it’s broadening for the audience as well as for the traveller.


January 25, 2009

Yesterday I managed to lose three items, each of which I also found across the course of 12 hours (jump drive, essential papers, etc.).  I proved not so adept in other arenas:

After a two-year hiatus, I was going to get to see my friend Tom who is now at Queens Public.  But our carefully cross plotted hour diagrammed into our meeting schedules got eaten by the extension of a meeting so, missed Tom.

Was a bit luckier with Heidi, although we spent a lugubrious half hour playing unintentional hide and seek when trying to connect for breakfast.  When we did connect, Vi and I told her library stories through the ages to a degree that she could go back to her own with some laughs. And for her part, she regaled us with the Canadian career openings avaialble back when she was in library school: apparently the need for erotic dancers north of the border was sufficient to give same a quick immigration ticket.  Did they need to be fingerprinted?  i don’t really want to know.

And then there was today’s blue plate special at the ALA Book Store:  a “kit” of poster, bookmarks and related book were up for a bundle price today only! the sign screamed at Vi and me.  We recognized the book.  Mine from 2005.  Not a fresh blue plate special…..

horse sense

January 25, 2009

Sixteenth Street is a pedestrian thoroughfare, with a constant shuttle bus during the day. At night, there are horse-drawn drays.  Perhaps because I was put aboard ponies early and often during the first decade of my life–I could ride (Western) relatively well by the age of 3–the horse is the one animal with which I feel a deep-rooted, primordial connecion.

Sp, walking in the dark, in Denver, literally thousands of miles from any place I’ve ever called home, the horses grounded me.

I was on my way to dinner with an old friend.  The food was fabulous and the company even better. And all this at the end of a day that was full to overflowing with that kind of work a horse would recognize as “good”: honest, in aid of something bigger than…the moment? the doers? And no more than the moment, which was, simply, enough.

on the interpretation of separation

January 23, 2009

The whole separation of church and state ethos is something I’ve always considered to be directed toward actions or places that are forbidden from bowing to the former while wearing the trappings of the American latter.  How flat an interpretation is that?

Certainly the Denver City and County Building has pointed up the error of my ways.  Here is is, nearly a full month past Christmas and its beautifully crescent-shaped neoclassic greatness is bedecked with:

one traditional manger scene

one manger scene that apepars to star the Seven Dwarfs (why aren’t they the Seven Dwarves?)

a giant Nutcracker soldier

a couple of adoring snowmen in lieu of adoring shepherds

a mission statement (?): “Peace on Earth.”

It is a total wow.  And my camera is home in Nova Scotia.  Or is it Vancouver, as a friend of mine asserted when introducing me today?

Denver once over very lightly

January 22, 2009

This is a city that I’ve never thought much about taking or not taking to.  I know that the many times I’ve travelled through it by train, I’ve felt slightly queasy, probably due to the altitude.  And there was that train trip about five years ago when the Zephyr had to bus us all from Grand Junction to Denver, due to another train’s derailment, and Fred and I got a vending machine-in-Union-Station eyeview of the place (Through train passengers were cautioned not to leave the station once we were delivered–eight hours by school bus, with only a bag a chips, the small snack size, proffered as food along the way–because the rest of the train trip would get underway “at any time”).

Denver, however, in the clear light of morning (okay, I started exploring last evening, while still punchy from travel and went out again today well before light) appears to be a little bit of okay.


First, there’s Peet’s coffee.  It tastes like Peet’s, smells like Peet’s, the shop looks like Peet’s (not the Vine at Walnut Street one, of course).  The help is a little sassier than Peet’s-in-my-experience, but they weren’t as glad handedly scary as the locals into whom I ran last evening.  So I am swigging way more caffeine than I should, content that my lunch with Linda will add the antidote of a glass of alcohol.

Second, the walking is terrific! There is a mile-long pedestrian mall (along which an electric/natural gas-powered shuttle bus runs, in a well-designated “ditch,” literally every 2 minutes, for you non-ped types) and there are heaps of people walking, even before dawn.

There are visually engaging alley views.  I cannot explain this aesthetic taste of mine.  Perhaps it has something to do with passing by the shadows and granite walls of alleys in Manhattan and Youngstown, at an age when I was more impressed by light and surface than by potential threat.  Anyway, Denver downtown alleys have that 19th century siding and it’s a beautifully sunny day (They boast of 300 days of sunshine a year here).

Fourth, the Tattered Cover, famous in library circles for the intellectual freedom stance they took a few years ago, is open at 6:30 am!  Now that’s a good bookstore!

Fifth, breakfast offerings here included pumpernickel and it was in the form of a bagel that actually had some chew to it.

Others may be thrilled by the weather, the cowboy culture, but hey, coffee, bread, books, walking and sights to see…what more could this visitor want?


January 21, 2009

As travel days go, this one went fairly well.  Yes, I was pulled for the additional security search in Halifax, but Toronto lost neither my suitcase nor the next portion of my ticket. My favourite sight en route most definitely was the the old codger–overweight, past 70, dressed in what looked like standard park ranger wear of khaki shirt and slacks, olive drab vest with multiple pockets– who was wearing a jeweler’s loupe and industriously (but seemingly grumpily) working on an embroidered tea towel.  At one point he studied his work while holding it aloft and I could see it was a map of Nova Scotia.

The woman next to me on the next flight was truly cranky and I did my best to stay out of her way.  But all my opinions of her changed drrastically as we landed.  Although the flight had been relatively smooth, the landing was bad:  we touched the runway, then bounced up again and bumped down hard.  She grabbed my hand.  “That was bad,” she chirped.  “My husband was a pilot and I hate flying and that one was bad.”  I couldn’t help but notice the “was” and the fact that the hand that gripped mine was wearing both a diamond and a wedding band.

The mile highness here is getting to me, or maybe it’s just that I’m three hours in advance of clock time.  I walked for a couple miles–it’s 70 Fahrenheit, or was when the sun was up–and felt like I’d been scraped up from the bottom of the sea.

Oh, well, tomorrow’s another day and it’s sure to come earlier for me than for my hotel mates.

Away and there at once

January 20, 2009

After an exhilarating morning meeting, I got into my office just going on 1, which is just going on noon, DC time.  Through the combined forces of modern technology and human interest and caring, the outer office had been transformed into a screen projected view of live feeds from the Inauguration.  Working with wifi, the best available streams were creating a new hybrid, capturing sound from one and image from another.

I’ve been frankly surprised by how optimistic Americans have been in the lead up to today, as though years of cynicism really can be shed like so much old fur.  I count myself among that number, even as my more detached observing eye wonders how easy that seems and wonders if anything that easy can be useful.

So, literally surrounded by Canadians, most of whom seemed as entranced as any of the people on screen with the proceedings, I sort of got to be there, sort of was present, and very much aware that my seeing was happening from not-the-US amid people who do care and are deeply affected by US politics but who have no hand in shaping them, as every US voter and consumer does.

But, of course, Canadians do have a hand as a nation, if not as individuals, because neither nation is–in these times–playing the isolationist card.  So are we here or are we there?  Or are here and there terms that can no longer be applied to politics but only to whether la plume de ma tante est sur la table ou assoyait sur la chaise?