Saturday, March 13, 2010

Travel: UK, Christmas 2008

Christmas is a time for family, buying stuff and remembering the world's most famous magical Jew. Many of us cram onto planes, spend hours queuing in shops and feel very lucky not to have to spend the holidays giving birth to babies, surrounded by animals because we'd forgotten that the Holiday Inn Beth Lehem is always booked up this time of year.

A few days before the famous day itself, we crept early out of our flat, leaving our feline family to fly to see my human one. My parents live near Brighton, the British Florida. The main difference is, of course, that the British sun retired a long time ago to the American Florida.

Dog toyWith a few days before Christmas, we used our time wisely: We shopped amidst the crowds and pockets of hopeful carol singers; pretty much the way early Christians did, although there was less tinsel in those days.

We did much of our shopping in the nearby town of Lewis. Lewis is a pretty, historic town populated by people who only read first editions of ancient books. This is based on the fact that there are two small shops selling new books, two small second hand bookstores and about a dozen antique bookstores. All of the rest of the shops are charity shops which is a well-recorded phenomenon in the UK.

The main shopping area was filled with seasonal busking, often done by kids who of the age when they really ought to be out hanging round bus shelters. Most notable being one young guy playing carols mournfully on a clarinet. I enjoyed it because, for me, it summed up the pathos of the season and was a nice break from the otherwise relentless good cheer.

Animals - Pink FloydWe also used our time to grab some kultcha. Cath is a fan of Mark Rothko who was having a retrospective at the Tate Modern (formerly Battersea Power Station). For those of you know don't know, Rothko is famous for his huge works such as Black Square on Red Background; Red Square on Black Background and Black Square on Black Background.

The pieces are not only impressive in their size, but also in the work that went into them. It may seem like a simple shape painted on top of a painted canvas, but it took a surprising amount of planning and experimentation. Even the often rough edges of the shapes are very deliberately and specifically so. And they do have an impact when you see them in the flesh that a tiny little reproduction in a book or on a computer screen doesn't convey. It is however a very homageable style, and I have tried my own emulations. One of my efforts now hangs in a millionaire's villa in Southern France.

Rothko Homage: Red on Red on RedChristmas period itself was the usual mix of too much traditional British Christmas foods (minced pies, Christmas cake, sausages wrapped in bacon), traditional British Christmas television (James Bond, Morecombe and Wise. Wallace wrapped in Grommit) and the local village's annual Boxing Day pram race.

A couple of days after the festivities, it was time to return home. Our flight back was delayed a little. They tried to hide this for a while by not telling us, but sooner or later the cat was let out of the bag.

As usual the flights to Amsterdam are serviced by Sterile Island, a block of gates separated from the main terminus by a bridge into which is piped bird noises and new age music. As I have said before, standing on the conveyer belts in this bridge, with this calming audioscape coming at you and arriving at a half-empty, cold, remote, sterile place increasingly makes me think of a Soylent Green-style old folk reprocessing plant. It explains why 90% of the time, airline meals are "chicken." Old people taste of chicken. If you get "beef" or "lamb," you've got a Mediterranean labourer.

Pram RaceI wrote in my notes that we got upgraded to Club. This was so many flights ago and so short a flight, I don't recall it. And it wasn't as exciting as the time I got upgraded temporarily because I was allocated a seat where the stewardesses sleep. Actually that was more disappointing than exciting, and a different story.

For once the plane landed close to the terminal instead of in Utrecht, where it normally seems to land; there was no queue at immigration; so that meant the last possible delay to getting home was, yes of course, waiting for Schiphol's computer system to stop contemplating the meaning of life and deliver our luggage. Anyway, Merry Magical Jew Day!

Pram Race