Hayden is my ex-husband's son, and Gwenaelle is his mother. They feel like close relatives, but I don't know what the genealogical term for them would be. It's a long story.
The immigration official at the Canadian border at 3am last night asked me where I would be staying. 'With friends.' 'And how do you know these friends?'
My mind flashed back to those turbulent days of 2002-3 - the separation, my husband telling me he was to be a father, my genuine pleasure at the news, the dream I had about Hayden before he was born, the powerful connection the first time I met him just after my return from Peru, the way Gwenaelle and I had instantly got on, memories of us sitting in the back garden talking and drinking wine together while our mutual man cooked our supper...
How did I know these friends? 'They're friends of the family.'
Following on from my comment yesterday on the movie 'V for Vendetta', today I was doing some housekeeping of the files on my MacBook when by coincidence I came across a long-forgotten document (in fact, I don't even remember creating it), called 'Buddhist Anarchism'. The third paragraph reads:
'No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The "free world" has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies - Communist included - into vicious distorters of man's true potential. They create populations of "preta" hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.'
(Gary Snyder, 1961)
I don't regard myself as a political person by any means, but something is stirring here. Maybe it's my recent phenomenal weight gain that has put me in mind of consumerism and over-consumption, made me more aware of the consequences to self as well as to the global society of guzzling more than one needs.
And here I am about to embark on a tour of the global capital of consumerism - the USA.
But I do stress that I have no political drum to beat. I am fascinated by this aspect of North America, but will attempt to do no more than observe what I see, as objectively as I can. I hope that in my Atlantic dispatches I came across as someone who says what's so, and I will try to use same guiding principle on dry land.
An overcast and oppressive Gotham City, errrr, New York
I had breakfast in London, lunch in mid-Atlantic, and am now surrounded by people speaking French. I must be on my way to Montreal.
I had planned to overnight in New York, but it was too grey and glary and humid, so I went straight to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and am now Greyhounding it out through the northern NY suburbs. It will be a long day's travel, arriving in Montreal around 2am local time, 7am BST, but it will be good to wake up in the 'right' place tomorrow.
It's been a smooth journey so far, an auspicious start to this next chapter of my life - 10 weeks in North America. There was a spooky outbreak of numbers matching various house numbers of places I've lived. My original plane seat was 36F (First Floor Flat, 36 Bendemeer Road, Putney) but I changed to a window seat - 23A (23A Parsons Green). In US immigration I was sent to desk 17 (17 Cambridge Cottages, Kew). The plane had left from Gate 16 (16=4 squared, and I lived at 4 Queensgate, Northwich - OK, maybe a bit tenuous) and the Greyhound bus left from Gate 63 (63 Gilbert Road, Cambridge). I suspect that this means nothing more than that I've lived in lots of places, but you never know when you might stumble onto a sequence that actually is significant.
Apropos of nothing in particular, I watched a thought-provoking film on the plane - 'V For Vendetta', with Natalie Portman and John Hurt, portraying an England of the future where the government secretly uses biological agents against its own citizens so it can then 'protect' the terrified people from further attack by unspecified terrorists. Not so different from Michael Moore's theory in 'Bowling for Columbine' that the Bush government nurtured an atmosphere of fear so that it could win the election on a platform of law and order.
Other interesting questions raised: when does spin become censorship? When does politicking become wilful manipulation of the truth?
The film ends (look away now if you don't want to know) with a memorable 5th November fireworks display - and blowing up the Houses of Parliament, the face of Big Ben exploding in a slo-mo spectacular. Feel free to add your own comments to this blog as to whether this strikes you as a good idea...
03 Jul 2006, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon
Hours of entertainment - and the rowing was quite engrossing too...
Wednesday 28th June, and the row-fest of Henley was upon us once again. 5 days later, I am in dire need of liposuction and a liver transplant, but otherwise have had a thoroughly fantastic, fun, and hopefully productive time. Here are a few images of Henley from my album....
Lord Moynihan dishes the prawns
Me, George, Sally - ocean rowers being as sensible as usual
Oh go on, then, just one more glass of champagne... with friends on a launch to watch the fireworks
Getting arty - white wine and smoked salmon
15 Jun 2006, Oxford High Street
17 years on, and I still have nightmares about it - that I'm about to take my finals and I'm totally unprepared. Not so different from the reality of 1989 - I wouldn't have had a chance had it not been for the efforts of some fine friends who during that last stressful term would sit me down with a packet of chocolate Hobnobs as an incentive, and cram my head full of the bare minimum required to scrape through my law exams.
You might have thought I'd be over it by now, but the stress has clearly left its scars.
By contrast, when the exams ended the feeling of elation (coming shortly before a feeling of being extremely drunk) was incomparable.
I suppose I'd hoped for a similar feeling of elation and release from stress when I finished the Atlantic row, but I didn't - probably something to do with the fact that I already knew I was going to attempt the Pacific. While that is on the horizon there can be no let-up.
Why am I always chasing something more? Will I ever be satisfied? Will I ever again experience that feeling of closure, relief, completion, unburdenment (is that a word?)? Or will I always be planning the Next Big Adventure?
Finalists on Oxford High Street
Who knows. For now, I can live with it. They say that you only stop learning just after you stop breathing. I hope the same doesn't apply to adventuring. One day, a few years down the line, I'd like to start doing my learning a less strenuous way.