Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"In this field there are no sheep."

"The tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another."
 ~ Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

"Whatever. Just go travel if you want and enjoy yourself. Forget about what anyone else is doing."
 ~ Dave Adair

Dear people-iest people,

Why do I feel the need to tell you? I've no idea, but here goes: I'm flying tomorrow morning to one of the Canary Islands, to spend a week with my friend Brigitte, from Munich. The island is either called Fuerteventura or maybe Rosario, although Google Maps says something about La Oliva. What am I, some kind of Canary Island historian or  something? Yeah, I don't think so. It's off the coast of Morocco, near Western Sahara. (So Western Sahara is a country? This is embarrassing.) My English/Australian mate Keith is waking up at 3:30 a.m. so he can give me a ride to the airport. What a saint.

When I'm back next Wednesday, I'm staying at Saint Keith's again for two nights before flying to India. I'll be there for maybe six months, and I've found a barn to store my van in while I'm gone. Adventure awaits!

Much love,

While this sign is indeed accurate, (there were in fact no sheep in the field,) it is wholly incomplete. There are So Many Things that were not in this field! A HUGE number of things.
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One picture? That's it?!

(The End)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guy Fawkes, the sequel

"You think [God's] not up there? You think he's not watching over this country? How else can you explain it? He tested us, but we came through. We did what we had to do. Islington. Enfield. I was there, I saw it all. Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go. Strength through unity. Unity through faith. I'm a God-fearing Englishman and I'm goddamn proud of it!" ~ from the movie "V for Vendetta"

It's been a Guy Fawkes kind of week. After the chaotic and explosive celebrations in Lewes from my last post, I stumbled across the Somerset Carnival in the beautiful small city of Wells, and again the next night in Glastonbury. What they call carnival we would call a parade, where giants floats do a procession through town ostensibly to raise money for charity. The origins go back to the Guy Fawkes celebration, though it looks more like something you'd see at Disneyland. (There weren't torches or fire pits you could fall into - it wasn't even dangerous!) The floats ranged from small and cheesy to giant and cheesy.

I wondered about the masks that protesters were wearing at the Occupy Wall Street protests, and learned that they were from the movie "V for Vendetta." With visions of Guy Fawkes already dancing in my head, I watched that movie, which had Mr. Fawkes as a principal character. Two weeks ago I couldn't have told you who Guy Fawkes was, and now I'm quasi-obsessed.

What's the difference between Guy Fawkes, reviled annually for 400 years, and the revered George Washington, with his image on United States currency? George Washington won.

Love to you,

p.s. I forgot in my last posting to include a link to more photos from Guy Fawkes night in Lewes.

I'm driving down the road, minding my own business, when I see a sign for Stonehenge. Um, yeah, you betcha I'm going there, especially since it was only 10 miles away. I'd been once before, in 2004, so I just stopped briefly and took a few snaps.

I met up with my friend Bryony in the town of Wells, Somerset, in the west of England. She and I traveled for three months in England and Scotland in 2004. Wells is beautiful, and has a spectacular cathedral, which makes no sense to me considering the population is 10,000 people. I've never seen a church with so much decoration, both inside and out.

Look how modern the "scissors" supports in the center look. It must be relative new, no? Incredibly, it was added to the existing building in 1338 as a way to support the sinking foundations. It's staggering to me that they had the technology, the math, and the skill to pull that off.

This clock has worked continuously since 1390. It also tracks the lunar calendar. They don't come out and say that the original mechanism is now in London, (where it still works.) (Thanks Wikipedia. )

Some of the many elaborate carvings inside the cathedral.

Bryony is looking up at the ceiling of the Chapter House, where monks met for talks about "business," as the sign said. ("Who should we burn at the stake today?!") This room was completed in 1306.

The ceiling of the Chapter House.

A beautiful old door.

What do you call this? Well, it's one of those, and that's stained glass in the background.

This beautiful building houses the music school, just across from the cathedral.

The little fair in the center of Wells.

There are people inside this fair ride.

This is the Bishop's Palace, home of the Bishop for 800 years. Just after I took this photo I met a local couple who told me about the carnival, which we'd call a parade, that was starting in an hour.

Massive, over-the-top "carts," which we'd call floats, are limited to 100 feet long! All the large ones incorporate a massive generator to power the light bulbs that you could probably see from Las Vegas.

Everyone had a theme, even if it didn't make any sense. This man might have been Cyndi Lauper with gills. Maybe.

I'll stop guessing now.

This was the first of the floats that were a "diorama," where all the characters were frozen. That's a tough way to spend two hours, I'd think.

An English person next to me commented that lots of the floats had American themes: Old West, hillbillies, Disney, etc. I hadn't noticed, but it was true.

By now it was POURING rain. English people don't get wet in the same way I do. I've used this line 100 times since I got here: "I'm from California, and I don't even go outside when it's raining. I wait until it's over." Unfortunately, that's a true statement, but I'm trying to learn new habits. I was dripping by the time this event was over, so I guess I'm learning.

Now for an afternoon in Glastonbury, the Berkeley of England. This hill is known as Glastonbury Tor, and people have been coming here for worship for 10,000 years, apparently. It rises, naturally, almost 500 feet from the surrounding flat plains, and it's a fantastic view. There's the ruins of a church on the top. The last abbot of Glastonbury, in 1539, was dragged by horses to the top on the hill, then hung, for "uncertain reasons," then drawn and quartered. Thank goodness we no longer kill people for uncertain reasons.

The view from the Tor as I headed back down into town.

In the evening, the even larger Glastonbury Carnival begins, this time on a dry evening.

I'm still having nightmares about this guy. The entire float was wearing those creepy contacts, or maybe that's just how they look, and that's why they were on the float.

The song accompanying these gals was "Get Down On It" by Kool and the Gang. Really.

Insert your own caption here.

This was an Old West float.

This little girl kinda freaks me out, but I think I could take her. The more I look, the less I'm sure.

This float wins for the best make-up and funniest unchanging expressions.

I'll bet his jaw ached after holding this pose for a couple of hours.

Such a nice portrait, except for that whole mouth thing, which she was holding.


I know that look. He spends too much time on the computer.

Strawmen? Scarecrows? Hillbillies? Pig farmers?

The most amazing float to me. Every part of this contraption was moving.

There were four amazingly life-like elephants on each side, each of which moved quite a bit, plus the guy in front is bustin' a move on a platform that spins circles with four people on it. Incredible.

(The End)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guy Fawkes night in Lewes, England

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it." - Herodotus

On November 5th I had the good fortune to be staying with my friend Beka in Lewes, an hour south of London and close to more well-known Brighton. Lewes is Ground Zero for what has to be the most chaotic, loud, and dangerous public celebration on this normally reserved and "proper" isle. Guy Fawkes was caught in the "Gunpowder Plot" of 1605 trying to assassinate King James I. If that wasn't bad enough, the plotters were Catholic! That just won't do. Mr. Fawkes was hung, then drawn and quartered, meaning chopped into (at least) four pieces. Ewwww. The annual celebration of the failure of the plot was originally primarily anti-Catholic, and often violent, as described in this Wikipedia article. In recent times it's just a wild celebration.

What you don't see in these photos is how loud it is, primarily from a continuous barrage of powerful firecrackers - what we used to call cherry bombs or M80's. They're dropped in the street, roll around at your feet, and vibrate your body if they go off near you. There are no physical barriers between onlookers and participants, so the heat from torches brushed past my head the whole evening, and my ears were ringing from the explosives. Yeah, baby.

Love to you all,

I haven't seen so many torches since a Frankenstein movie.
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Periodically celebrants carried some kind of red flare that was way too bright to look into. It turned the night red.
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The famous  17 crosses, commemorating the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake on this very street between 1555 and 1557.
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Costumes are elaborate. I don't know how the themes are chose by the groups.
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There are lots of children taking part.
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This man looks like the Johnson side of my family.
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Another view of the 17 crosses.
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Here's one you won't see in the U.S.: white people with black-as-night makeup, dressed as Africans.
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These metal skids are pulled around through the night to burn the used torches. New torches are handed out regularly, and the old ones are dropped on the street before they're picked up and burned by these guys.
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Guy Fawkes himself. As he wheels by, some people in the crowd yell, "Burn him! BURN HIM!!" Good clean fun, I guess.
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An effigy I fully support the burning of: Rupert Murdoch being strangled by Rebekah Brookes, former head of News of the World.
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The procession leaves the downtown area and heads to the bonfire a mile or so away.
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AT the end of the evening, there are substantial fireworks displays from each of the bonfire societies, situated around the outskirts of town.
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This bonfire was just behind the house where Beka lives.
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The fire was so hot it was difficult to get within 50 yards of it.
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The bonfire is nearby as fireworks are going off at a distant bonfire.
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(The End)