Tag Archives: travel

Coming to America

The forces of nature were at work as I traveled. I’ve been reading so much about our relationship with nature, whether we are part of it or a devastating destructive force somehow outside of it. We flew into Chicago and I stared down. The city didn’t seem real. Didn’t seem within our powers to build, to transform the earth so. To leave such a mark.

How wondrous and terrible to be so high above it. In the sky.

This Chicago of skyscrapers — the bounding humanism of Louis Sullivan, the graft and corruption of the Monadnock, the early utopian ideals of Bertrand Goldberg, wondrous words and heartbreaks of working class communities, communities of colour written by Stuart Dybek, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry. Its early days and connections to the countryside and food production so described by Edna Ferber in one of the great American novels you have never read. Me sitting above all this, and millions of lives being lived.

I quite love it from here, but to get to O’Hare you keep flying, and flying. Miles of flat and sprawl.

The plane from Chicago to Tucson sat on the tarmac, and sat. And sat. ‘You gotta be kidding me, a storm?’ chided the six year old in the seat in front of me.

Natural forces. Lightening sheeting across the sky. We turned back to the gate. Frustrating, but gave me a few hours to see my brother and Sandy and my baby nephew, all of whom I love very much. I was one of the lucky ones, even without my luggage (medicine, face cream, special shampoo, a change of clothes, things I am shamefacedly so sad to do without). I had someone to call, and a bed for the night after stealing some hours of sleep from my poor brother.

Back in the air late the next afternoon, we came into Phoenix, 111 degrees. The plane sailed down for the landing and then abruptly banked back upwards. Fear. A cold front had come across, causing whirlwinds of dust, gusts of over 50 mph. We circled, the left engine grinding like the slight rise of panic in my stomach. I am slowly coming to hate flying for more than environmental reasons (the ones that maybe should be but aren’t strong enough to keep me from visiting my family). I am not ready to plummet to earth in a mass of metal.

‘You gotta be kidding me, a cold front?’ demanded a man somewhere behind me.

Now home in Tucson, happy to be back in heat that wraps round you like a blanket. Reeling a bit as always with the size. Everything is so huge here: cars, roads, empty lots, sprawling cities, people. We went to Target, and I thought perhaps a new phobia should be invented for fear of large stores, overwhelming choice, terrifying impossible demands on your capacity to consume. Even the shopping carts are bigger, and they have seats like little plastic cars for children. Bohemoths left blocking the massive shining white aisles while mom stares at rows of hairsprays. I don’t know why the carts bother me so much, far beyond her rudeness. The size I think, like the health food store with it’s giant canisters of super-food powder for $75.99 each.

I feel sometimes I see it all through post-peak-oil-globally-warmed-already-run-out-of-water-and-even-hotter-after-the-whimpering-apocalypse eyes. No one should possibly ask ‘why’ it has happened, but I imagine they will.

Pieskowa Skała and Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ania drove and drove selflessly (if interestingly) until we found hills, then wonderful pillars of limestone and then Pieskowa Skała above a wildflowered hillside.

Pieskowa Skała

Pieskowa Skała castle, built by King Casimir III the Great, is one of the best-known examples of a defensive Polish Renaissance architecture. It was erected in the first half of the 14th century as part of the chain of fortified castles called Orle Gniazda (Eagles Nests), along the highland plane of the Polish Jura extending north-west from Kraków to the city of Częstochowa.

The castle was rebuilt in 1542–1544 by Niccolò Castiglione with participation from Gabriel Słoński of Kraków. The sponsor of the castle’s reconstruction in the mannerist style was the Calvinist, Stanisław Szafraniec, voivode of Sandomierz.

Old and new fortifications blending one into the other into a unified whole.

Pieskowa Skała

A courtyard full of flowers, and below a lovely formal garden to be admired from a height.

Pieskowa Skała

A display of ‘English’ paintings in three rooms, all of them copies of Constable and Reynolds among others, or attributed to most questionably. Wonderful faces staring down at us from the inner courtyard.

Pieskowa Skała

A wonderful collection of gothic art.

Pieskowa Skała

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From there Ania drove us to Ogrodzieniec Castle, a very different kind of place though also part of this same group of fortifications along the Jura. We walked up a long road lined by stalls selling the most wonderful and terrible of Polish kitsch — at its best funny painted wooden cats and owls which I rather coveted, at its worst plastic Uzis and AK-47s. There was a house of horrors to the right, a fun fair to the left, the screaming of children, rides, balloons. The castle was crawling with people, and more selling of kitsch in the main courtyard but at times its atmosphere and history were recoverable. It is most beautiful:

Ogrodzieniec CastleEstablished in the early 12th century, during the reign of Bolesław III Wrymouth (Polish: Bolesław Krzywousty), the first stronghold was razed by the Tatars in 1241. In the mid-14th century a new gothic castle was built here to accommodate the Sulimczycy family.

One of its owners created a beautiful marble room for his lady, which was destroyed — among several waves of destruction — by Swedish troops during The Deluge. Fitting, then, perhaps, that I am slowly getting through the first half of the second book in Henryk Sinkiewicz’s trilogy. A beautiful view of what they were fighting for apart from wealth and fame and power…

Ogrodzieniec Castle

The other view is looking down on the gauntlet of consumption, and the miniature park created so you don’t actually have to visit real castles but can see them all in one place.

Miniatures seen from Ogrodzieniec Castle

Pieskowa Skała is castle as national history and heritage, Ogrodzieniec is castle as camp and consumption. As theme park.

Hopeless to feel any of the other famous history of the place among a horde of holiday makers:

According to some investigators of paranormal phenomena, the Ogrodzieniec Castle is a place haunted by mighty dark powers. There have been locally famous reports of the “Black Dog of Ogrodzieniec” being seen prowling the ruins in the night-time. Witnesses have claimed that the spectre is a black dog much larger than an ordinary dog, and is supposed to have burning eyes and pull away a heavy chain. The dog is believed to be the soul of the Castellan of Cracow, Stanisław Warszycki. Interestingly, his soul also haunts the ruins of the Dańków Castle, where it appears as a headless horseman.

They did try, however. Perhaps.

Ogrodzieniec Castle

Ogrodzieniec Castle

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It has been a funny time, days spent listening and coming to grips with this entirely-new-to-me new materialism, speculative realism, weird realism and object-oriented ontology — theories that I think are sometimes useful, sometimes so not useful. I am so grateful, though, that I was able to come to this conference, and even more so for a lovely weekend  spent with new friends and getting to know such a beautiful place.

And yet the news. God the news. The shootings of the police in Dallas, two more black men killed by cops, latinos killed by cops, violence soaring so this from facebook on Friday:

news relentlessly unfolds and violence and injustice and death and lives twisted by this world we’ve created, and hearts breaking and so my love goes out to everyone but especially to all those whose skin is darker than mine, I am thinking and worrying about you so much, every day, I hope you stay safe and stay whole. Take care of one another, know where we stand and who we stand with and fight to change things for the better in ways big and small wherever we are…I suppose that is all we can do?

It is hard to know even how to react anymore. Much of our conversation here has been about the turns to the right, the rising of violence. Poland has its own worries…it is good to find people who stand against this tide.

More posts on Poland:








Mary Wollstonecraft and I arrive in Sweden

Travellers who require that every nation should resemble their native country, had better stay at home. It is, for example, absurd to blame a people for not having that degree of personal cleanliness and elegance of manners which only refinement of taste produces, and will produce everywhere in proportion as society attains a general polish.

Thus writes Mary Wollstonecraft in 1796, and she may not blame the Swedish (or the Norwegians) for a lack of many of these things, but her letters certainly describe them thus.

We have arrived in Sweden! But late in the evening. I will compare notes with Mary…

The hospitality she encountered? She arrived in rather unorthodox fashion (I think, what do I know?) on a desolate patch of the Swedish coast:

There was a solemn silence in this scene which made itself be felt. The sunbeams that played on the ocean, scarcely ruffled by the lightest breeze, contrasted with the huge dark rocks, that looked like the rude materials of creation forming the barrier of unwrought space, forcibly struck me, but I should not have been sorry if the cottage had not appeared equally tranquil. Approaching a retreat where strangers, especially women, so seldom appeared, I wondered that curiosity did not bring the beings who inhabited it to the windows or door. I did not immediately recollect that men who remain so near the brute creation, as only to exert themselves to find the food necessary to sustain life, have little or no imagination to call forth the curiosity necessary to fructify the faint glimmerings of mind which entitle them to rank as lords of the creation. Had they either they could not contentedly remain rooted in the clods they so indolently cultivate.

We flew into Arlanda airport, Stockholm. The flight was just over two hours, no turbulence. Utterly uneventful. The airport looked just as any other, though it advertised a skycity which was neither a city, nor in the sky.

She cast around for lights, for anyone who would welcome her, found a house…

Still nothing was so pleasing as the alacrity of hospitality–all that the house afforded was quickly spread on the whitest linen. Remember, I had just left the vessel, where, without being fastidious, I had continually been disgusted. Fish, milk, butter, and cheese, and, I am sorry to add, brandy, the bane of this country, were spread on the board. After we had dined hospitality made them, with some degree of mystery, bring us some excellent coffee. I did not then know that it was prohibited.

I love the shocking knowledge that at one time both coffee and brandy were prohibited. I love that they were served anyway.

We were never, at any time, offered brandy.

Still, travel was harder then. Just a little.

I expected to have found a tolerable inn, but was ushered into a most comfortless one; and, because it was about five o’clock, three or four hours after their dining hour, I could not prevail on them to give me anything warm to eat.

We ourselves landed at the airport, wheeled our carry-on luggage to the free shuttle, and within ten minutes were entering the Radisson Blu. This Radisson Blu, I confess, resembles all other Radissons, particularly in the existence of a restaurant (open until 11 pm), and a bar. This one is also well provided with mysteries and thrillers in both Swedish and English in a kind of library decor, and a scattering of chess boards.

I have observed no one playing chess.

More from Mary Wollstonecraft in 1796.

The inns are tolerable; but not liking the rye bread, I found it
necessary to furnish myself with some wheaten before I set out. The beds, too, were particularly disagreeable to me. It seemed to me that I was sinking into a grave when I entered them; for, immersed in down placed in a sort of box, I expected to be suffocated before morning. The sleeping between two down beds–they do so even in summer–must be very unwholesome during any season; and I cannot conceive how the people can bear it, especially as the summers are very warm. But warmth they seem not to feel; and, I should think, were afraid of the air, by always keeping their windows shut.

We have comfortable beds (two beds pushed together Scandinavian style. Also German. Curious, but the older I get, the more I think it makes sense.) They involve no feathers I think, though the duvets are nice. Everything is white. I have no fear of suffocation.

But shit, we have no wheat bread.

Mary writes:

Travelling in Sweden is very cheap, and even commodious, if you make but the proper arrangements. Here, as in other parts of the Continent, it is necessary to have your own carriage, and to have a servant who can speak the language, if you are unacquainted with it.

This is now become one of the most expensive places in all of Europe. I shudder to think of how much we are spending. Yet neither of us come from families who would ever have had their own carriages, or the servants who come with them. A curious inversion.

Another fairly damning indictment of older traditions of hospitality — this refers to Gothenberg, and surprisingly enough to Dublin as well back in the day:

Hospitality has, I think, been too much praised by travellers as a proof of goodness of heart, when, in my opinion, indiscriminate hospitality is rather a criterion by which you may form a tolerable estimate of the indolence or vacancy of a head; or, in other words, a fondness for social pleasures in which the mind not having its proportion of exercise, the bottle must be pushed about.

These remarks are equally applicable to Dublin, the most hospitable city I ever passed through. But I will try to confine my observations more particularly to Sweden.

I found much more of interest in her letters beyond such observations on the travails of travelers, but more on those later and I shall end here, as I am tired. Just one fascinating fact before goodnight.

The distance was three Norwegian miles, which are longer than the Swedish.

The Best Description of London I Have Ever Read

At least, as long as I don’t think too hard about how this is marketing London to the world. But it is totally plagued with landmarks.

This is the place where the contemporary and the nostalgic come together side by side and sometimes blending in with each other. The same can be said about London’s excellent boutique hotels. Grown from Centuries of leadership, London has collected and amalgamated the best of all worlds – people and things. A great metropolis yet each borough has a homely and distinct feeling. Because of that and its great influence over western culture, London is a city plagued with landmarks that are worldwide recognizable. Walk along the Abbey Road zebra crossing that was featured in one of the Beatles albums; be wondered by the magnificent Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s permanent residence in London, or visit the House of Parliament the place where the British laws are made, and where one of the most important landmarks of the capitol of England is located: The Big Ben. Stroll along Covent Garden the first luxury neighborhoods of the city; drop by Trafalgar Square, one of London’s greatest architectural set pieces, or visit the London Greenwich Royal Observatory, where the time of all over the world is measured. Some of the marvelous boutique hotels you can find in London are the 54 Boutique Hotel, the Bingham, Hotel 55 London, the San Domenico House Hotel and the Beaufort Hotel Knightsbridge.

Epoque Hotels Website

For lots more on London…

Roque-Gageac, Beynac, Rouffignac

I woke up this morning to a brave calling of swallows echoing across the cliff face, greeting the dawn. It is the same cliff that forms one wall of my room, the other wall of pine sloping sharply up to meet it with a cross bracing of huge and ancient beams cut square. It is very cold. The swallows move in and out of crescendo and light comes in through the two small triangular windows.

Last night I was kept awake by the irony of a rock-pop festival in this tiny medieval village, and then I was kept awake by the cold. I wore my down vest under the covers for a while, then wrapped it around my feet. In between wakings I dreamed of James Crumley, big and shaggy and alcohol soaked, I dreamed he had hired my dad to rebuild and redecorate his record and auto-part store. I dreamed we walked in the desert and I tried to explain just how beautiful it was, just how much I loved it. But I almost never write about the desert, I don’t understand. But I suppose dreams aren’t for understanding.

Maybe it is just that I have found no inspiration beyond photos, I don’t find words hidden seamed up in time’s folds the way I do in London. So I shall work on my dissertation. It is ridiculously beautiful here of course, ancient villages of mellowed golden limestone and narrow winding roads. They are all fortified, on hilltops, castles crowning outcrops and defensible walls blocking cavern faces high up in the cliffs. It was on the edges of the hundred-years war with England, the castle of Beynac-et-cezenac in French hands, that of Castelnaud in English.

We went to see the grotte de Rouffignac yesterday as well. It is a huge cavern, huge. And regular the way most caves are not, carved out by an underground river through stone that must have been very regular. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, though my french did not quite reach to understanding why. The walls are mostly smooth, with a layer of what looks like a conglomerate just above the level of my head, strange rounded multi-armed shapes embedded whole into the walls, grey near the opening, stained a deep orange-red with iron ore deeper inside. You ride a small electric train very deep inside, following where ancient people walked with only torches. Large openings branch to either side, you wonder how they found their way. Past the hollows where ancient cave bears dug their holes to hibernate for the winter, into a rounded cavern where beautiful mammoths and bison were drawn across the roof, only a few feet from the floor, emerging from the deep hole of a cavern to the left that goes far beyond seeing…


From LA to Glasgow

I rode my bike home on Friday night, a late night train ride and finally I was on my own in the mist and the darkness. The moon hung orange yellow in a wedge just over half full. I love it when the night is like that, the moon is like that. I had been to Grand Ave performances and danced and danced to Very Be Careful, they were as phenomenal as everyone had said they would be, cumbias the way I love them. My legs hurt the next morning but I love to dance outside under the stars…and I love L.A., the diversity of it, the abuelitos and the folks my age and the cholo kids and the two white goth kids and people of every age and race and nationality and idiom there mixing it up, dancing all around the plaza. And dancing cumbias! Chingado! I love it.

Saturday I hung out in echo park in the morning, and then Sunset Junction! Antibalas Afrobeat something or other! Phenomenal! They were amazing live, and though the horrible $15 fee to get in (for suckers) means that hipsters are incredibly over-represented at this great event, still, there’s a mixed up crowd, and lots more dancing…hanging out with Charles who got us in through his apartment and meeting a whole new crew of folks and talking about sci fi and anarchist zines from back in the day and the politics of Vegas and zombies and I don’t even know what else. Such a great afternoon that included bottles of champagne, rum with lime juice, elotes, pupusas, a lot of walking and staying out until I had missed the last train home. Damn. That was sad. Or maybe it’s just sad to live in Norwalk. But Sunday got back to Norwalk late and had to pack desperately and try and finish up everything and…

Here I am! Sleepy, very sleepy. But Scotland. My aunt and uncle’s house smells always the same, and that is impossibly comforting for some reason, like home away from home. I got in really early, will certainly try to never fly Continental again but sometimes for the cheap fares you just have to. Still, the people were nice enough, you can just tell they work for a crap company that is cutting every single corner. But I am here, it feels a bit like home, the rain is falling softly and the world is a colour of green that I had forgotten and Margaret Burt came over for tea and she is one of my absolute favourite people even if I started falling asleep. You’d think it would be Margaret given she is over 70 I believe and brilliant, but no, it was me. I worked for the entirety of two flights editing a manuscript you see, and the damn thing is still not done but close, and I am feeling GOOD about that.  And I get to talk to my little brother tonight and see him tomorrow, and then it’s off to meet new and amazing people and when I took my two hour nap this morning I couldn’t sleep at all for the excitement of thinking about it. New friends and old friends, new ideas and catching up and more new ideas, a jaunt to London and a trip to Aberdeen where I have not yet been, life is very good, though at present I am really looking forward to the hour hitting 8:30 or 9 when I will feel somewhat justified in getting more sleep!