Thursday, October 31, 2013

Re-provisioning and re-connecting

DSC01094 (975x1300)Once each year, Mountain Men would come down from the  wilderness to meet in a Rendezvous, where they could sell furs, swap advice, and replenish supplies ahead of the winter.  There was also much cooking, dancing, singing, and telling of tall tales…

Modern Europe wouldn’t be mistaken for forested wilderness, but independent expatriates channel some aspects of their lives from Free Trappers of the 1800’s.  We find our home away from home, explore unmapped areas and make peace with unfamiliar cultures.  We live in temporary camps; our food supplies duplicate local diets.

And periodically I need to get back to the US to replace the food, medicines, housewares, clothes, and electronics that are unobtainable in Europe.  I bring gifts from abroad and DSC01084 (1300x950)carry shopping lists from fellow expatriates.  I meet with friends for evenings of drinking and tall tales.

The Pacific Northwest is having a late autumn, leaves glowing red and yellow against a low, stormy sky.  I’ve seen the doctor and dentist for annual check-ups (‘doing fine, thanks!), bought some jeans and dress clothes, got a familiar haircut.  I voted.  We made a risotto feast; we went out for big “slab ‘o beef” dinners. I made “Caramelized onions and chicken thighs” from the Jerusalem Cookbook.   The 2012 taxes are finally finished, problems with the home internet have been sorted. and the yard is cleaned up.

DSC01090 (1300x1292)The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us…. (describing his travels through time,) As I put on pace, night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. I could adjust my speed, leaping ahead days or months, then slowing to sample the changes that had taken place before leaping ahead again, months or years. Thus was the future revealed in glimpses…

There are unexpected changes every time I return.  Sometimes they are physical: traditional buildings falling, road layouts changing, new architectures rising.  Often they are social: children advancing, relationships changing, sometimes friends departing.  This visit it seems like more people are having a hard time of things, defending what they have and apprehensive about the future.  DSC01085 (1300x963)Immediate family and friends are doing well, but everyone knows someone living on the edge.

I feel connected with people’s lives across time, yet disconnected for only sampling them across otherwise silent intervals.  I value the time with family and friends catching up and making plans, but regret that it is only a glimpse that reconstructs a narrative, only a glimmer of the underlying motivations.

DSC01081 (1300x977)And soon, it will be Sunday, and back to the airplane for another solitary quest into the forest, another leap across the months.

One cannot choose but wonder: Will he ever return?  I, for my own part, believe he went forward, into one of the nearer
ages, with the riddles of our own time answered and its wearisome problems solved…

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Back in the air

DSC01076 (1300x962)It’s been 7 months since I was last in the US, not an intentional lapse, but just the way business and life has worked out.  this trip was both last-minute and short-duration, a mix of local business and family visits, back to the UK at the weekend.

As luck would have it, the St. Jude (Patron Saint of Lost Causes) storm hit full force on Sunday night ahead of my Monday departure. There wasn’t much rain, but gale winds vibrating in the Maritime Pines around the house.  The electricity stayed on all night, but the Internet departed by dawn.

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I met the taxi in the predawn darkness after tossing my bags over the (unresponsive) gate and climbing over after them.  There was a foot of standing water in hollows along the roads; the waves were crashing against the bluffs, all white and foam.  Bournemouth terminal was quiet and the bus looked to be on-time.  But, checking the station, DSC01070 (1300x1223)every train north had been cancelled because of downed trees.  A good morning to be on the roads.

I called a friend living near Heathrow, who confirmed torrential rains still falling to the north of me.  Nonetheless, the sun rose beautifully over the mists blanketing the New Forest, and skies were blue when I pulled into Heathrow.  Security was a hassle, but DSC01073 (1300x959)the planes left on time: I even scored an upgrade to 1st for the transatlantic leg.

I usually have a rule never to transfer through JFK, and this evening was among the worst.  Lines were long at border control, and the new automated kiosks couldn’t make sense of my passport.  I joined a line only to have the woman in front of me faint dead away – she was fine, but it brought the agents out of the kiosks when I called.  The baggage reclaim and re-check was a mess, and I got to the head of the line one minute too late to have my bag transfer.

storm“You’ve been rebooked on the next flight, but will have to stay in New York overnight,” assured the agent.  My flight doesn’t leave for half an hour: there has to be a way.  She shrugged, pointed to a supervisor.  I appealed to the senior agent helping her. “If yu have no liquids, you can try to gate-check the bag,” she suggested.  28 minutes; I don’t have any way to find the gate here.  “Would you like me to escort you?”

Pride says I can do this; practicality says I’d be better off with help.  Off we went, zip through security, onto a cart, out to Gate 37 and on board with five minutes to spare.  My first time on a Rover: ‘kind of cool.

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So I did get back to the Northwest, into my rental car, and up to Woodinville by midnight.  ‘not the smoothest trip, but I’m getting used to “winning ugly” these days.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Settling in (III): People

DSC01023The encircling sea defines Sandbanks, present in every view and framing each day, much as the University gives Cambridge its enduring character.  But the community is formed for me when people start to fill the frame. Three weeks in, I’m starting to fit into the neighbourhood, finding my place with the families living nearby and recognized by the local merchants.

To a large degree, this is due to the change in living arrangements, boarding with a local family rather than tucked into an isolated flat.  The ages and activities of people in the community are a better fit: 45-65, moderately successful, socially outgoing, and comfortable in themselves.  And I’ve made changes that welcome a midday coffee or an evening drink for introductions and conversation.

It all makes a difference.

DSC00451 (1200x882)I work, as I did in Cambridge, from an upstairs office.  The household is the difference: kids flow through with their friends and neighbours drop by for a half-hour chat around the kitchen table.  I similarly used to go have a talk and a nibble in the cafeteria at Physio mid-mornings and afternoons , and I’m rediscovering how necessary and balancing that part of the day is.  It’s easier to keep the negotiations with lawyers and designers in perspective when I’m occasionally interrupted by homework questions or  new puppies.

DSC01046 (1200x990)A group of us were invited to  a neighbours for lunch at mid-week.  They had just finished building a very modern house a couple of blocks away, all recessed lighting and fully-automatic environmental controls and sound systems.  Lunch was a buffet of local seafood DSC01042 (1200x900)and ethnic samplers; conversation flowed from travel plans to politics to boating to gossip. Three hours passed, effortlessly, among the eight of us.  It’s high-end normalcy, but normalcy all the same.

Several times each week, I move out into a local coffee shop for a necessary change from scribbling notes, fielding Skype calls, DSC01055 (1300x951)and hammering out emails.  I mark myself ‘unavailable’ for a few hours: somehow work survives.  The Sandbanks Beach Cafe has been congenial so far: it has a nice view of the sea, free wifi, comfortable chairs,and tasty coffee cakes (although no plugs and premium prices).  Today, the window seats filled as the big ‘St.Jude’ storm blew in from the west.  It was nice: lots of couples sitting together over coffee, watching the surf and chatting quietly. 

DSC01067 (1300x1065)It a bit like the Dutch gathering onto the banks and bridges along the Maas when the river rises, or when the ‘storm-chasers’ go to the Vancouver and Oregon coasts when the barometer falls: a shared migration to check the borders, witness wild nature, and share the experiences.

‘Followed by beach-walking in the wind and rain, of course.

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It’s a nice feeling of connection and community to nurture on arrival in a new place.