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Three score and ten or more

Friday, October 06, 2006

The copy below is out of keeping with the soberness of my current feeling, but it was more or less a journal of our travels in the beginning. Since I already had it in Word, I thought I would post it while it was timely. If things get better I might forget it, and if they get worse I would probably throw it out. Thanks for the wonderful messages you have sent.

To Britain and Finland, 2006

When we first discovered that the LDS Church was going to build a temple in Finland in 2005 and 6 we began to think of the possibility of going there to see it. We, after all, have been planning to return to Finland almost since we left in 1967, but it seemed unlikely that the government was going to finance a second trip, and, following the first trip, it was not high on the financial priority list. After all, when we returned to the U. S. to try to incorporate all of the data I had picked up in Finland into, what had seemed before I received the Fulbright Fellowship and went to Finland, to be a finished (pun not intended, but slightly there) dissertation, we were faced with finances nearing zero, no impending employment and all my assistantships and fellowships long since used up. I had hoped to be able to finish the dissertation and find a teaching position in the months between our arrival home and the beginning of the fall school term but it took most of my waking hours just to find a position, so the completion of the dissertation had to wait a couple of years. After spending two years at the State University in Oneonta, New York, I had most of the dissertation complete, had officially left my position, and had found a new job. Unfortunately the new job, as jobs in academe tend to do, didn’t start until fall, and I had accumulated, in addition to a completed dissertation and an interesting two years of experience, a sixth child (Beth-Anee, one of the sweetest of the sweet) and a somewhat temperamental Labrador retriever. Since University of New York salaries were paid over a nine month period, and my salary ended in May, one of the professors in English and I set up a workshop for Finnish teachers of English to come and make their spoken English more fluent, and to give them tools to make the spoken English of their students more fluent as well. It was a wonderful experience both for the Finnish teachers and for those of us who ran the workshop. It also financed the family till we could get to my new job in Georgia as well as intensifying my desire to return to Finland.

Instead of returning to Finland we moved to Carbondale, Illinois, where my poor family camped (with the dog) on a lakeside while I traveled back and forth to the Carbondale Campus of Southern Illinois University preparing for, and completing the defense of my dissertation (which was much easier than I expected it to be, largely because of a wonderful thesis advisor named Archibald McLeod.) When the defense was completed, we packed up our big white Econoline van and headed for Georgia, where we had decided that we would spend no more than two years at the most.

Thirty nine years later, after retirement from Georgia Southern University, and after saving some money by doing some theatre workshops, and by Janet helping to found a Charter School where she taught for a year, we determined finally to set off for Finland.

We were pleased, when we were shopping for tickets to find that British Air, in addition to having the best prices at the time, were giving away two free nights in a fine London hotel at the beginning of the trip, so we made reservations not just to Finland but to London, which over the years has been one of our favorite destinations.

I was sad to discover that London is not as much fun when you have reached the age when walking is difficult, and that, in spite of a nice bus and tube system and lots of expensive taxis, London is a city that, for most things, requires a lot of walking. I suspect that Janet and I walked more miles in London than we had walked in a long time.

I was bemused at the explanation by our driver (we had booked on line a company called Hotel Links which was scheduled to meet us at the gate, guide us through the airport and transport us to our hotel, something they did very well) as we dashed through back alleys to our hotel that London has a truly unique process for attempting (in futility) to limit congestion near the center of the city. They have cameras stationed at many points in the city that take pictures of private cars (and as the Al Qaeda train bombers discovered, a lot of other stuff as well), and if you have the temerity to drive a private car into congestion zone (almost all of down town) those cameras snap pictures of the driver and the license plates, and quickly notify the drivers ( I didn’t full understand the initial means of notification) and you must pay a fine of eight pounds (about seventeen plus dollars) to one of the kiosks around the town. If you don’t pay within twenty four hours the price goes up to sixteen pounds, and after forty eight hours they send you a formal notice that you owe the City of London one hundred pounds (figure at the current rate about $2.26 per pound) and that doesn’t count any parking or speeding tickets you may have accumulated as well.

One would think this would limit congestion, but just the busses (large), taxis, trucks and official cars of one kind and another keep the streets jammed. Think of millions of (large) cars going at high speeds, in both directions on streets that were designed for horseback riders, or buggies, at best. Total traffic chaos required a lot of foot power from the stranger. In spite of seeming millions of busses, one can be sure that the only bus stop where one’s appropriate bus will stop is at least a quarter mile away. The tube (subway to us Americans) is much faster and convenient but who wants to spend an expensive day in London rubbing shoulders (and butts and behinds and fronts and whatever else) with rushing strangers who may or may not have bathed that day, and staring at the inside of a car or at a crowd in the station.

The buildings and the parks are still scenic and the people generally friendly and helpful, but to take full advantage of these things one must still walk, and I for one don’t do that very well anymore. Being theatre people, we found our way (after considerable bus trauma and tired feet, ) to the Globe theatre restoration just in time for a matinee performance of Anthony and Cleopatra (which was my first professional theatre experience playing Pompey in the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego California in 1958 or thereabouts.). Unfortunately we were not able to see the performance, but I was able to wander around, take some pictures and chat with the staff. It was quite wonderful.

When we had exhausted the souvenir department and run up and down the stairs several times, we found a lift (elevator in British English) to take us down and we wandered out along the Thames. Right at the exit from the Globe there was a pier at Bankside that marketed boat rides along the Thames so we got a couple of tickets and floated out on the Thames under the Millennium bridge, which is strictly a pedestrian bridge, meaning that we weren’t meant to cross it . Further down we saw the art museum and a great sightseeing ferris wheel and another bridge or two. When the boat turned around, reached a pier on the opposite side of the Thames, and the captain invited us to leave, I explained that my ticket was also supposed to take us up the other way to London bridge and the Tower etc. He said something consoling and informed us that if we would do “this” and “that” that the ticket would be honored.

This brings up another problem. I have discovered that reaching coothood with terrible hearing makes it very difficult for me to understand British spoken English. I miss the higher registers and just don’t understand much. This was never true before. When I was younger, when I heard Britspeak I tended to just shift my own accent to Britspeak (after all, what are all those voice and acting lessons supposed to do?) but it just doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately Janet was able to understand somewhat more than I, and translate. Were it not for her, I probably would still be standing lost somewhere at Gatwick airport wondering about the latest announcement. (Britspeak is enough of a problem in person, coming out of a public address speaker makes it impossible..) As it was, neither Janet nor I figured out what “this” and “that” was, so we left the boat which was now on the opposite side of the river and decided to go to 0000000000 Square. We found a bus stop and asked the apparently Vietnamese driver if this bus went to the square. He grinned and said “Just walk two blocks that way mate, and you’ll be there. It would be a shame to waste a bus ticket”. We took his advice and walked there, passing, as we went, a place named Garfunkel’s restaurant. It had a sign outside offering a fresh fruit sundae, and so we entered, and had, culture and scenery be darned, one of the best experiences of the day. As tired and hot as we were, it was almost a kind of resurrection machine. Go there, try one, you’ll love it.

We wandered the square, taking pictures of the children playing on the great stone Lions, Wellington’s statue and the great government buildings, then, as our feet were about to play out we set about finding the bus stops for the number 13 bus that seemed to be the one going in the direction of the Marriot Regency Hotel (which was not near to any street or area called Regents or Regency, but by any name had some of the most comfortable beds and lovely meals in the world.) We circled the square (I love to say that—more than I loved doing it) until we could find the “T” stop, got on the bus and wended our way home. We had planned to finish the day by supping at a pub near the Marriot which the concierge guaranteed was the best pub in London, but we were physically exhausted and opted for a sandwich in the hotel ”chat” and a half hour of water aerobics in the hotel pool. It was wonderful, though it led to my only criticism of the Marriot. Entrance to the pool required going down a long bit of narrow stairs to the dressing room, then climbing a still narrower circular stair to get to the pool. It was immediately clear that the designer of the pool had no problems with either age nor arthritis and didn’t give much of a damn for anyone who did.

A serial narrative would conclude with the timely arrival of the Hotel Link bus, an equally timely delivery of our tired bodies to Heathrow, and a speedy flight to Finland on a lovely Finnair jet managed by British Air. All these things happened, but I read some things in the Times of London that I had to make note of.
1. A law has been proposed or passed that “muggers and thieves to be fined 100 pounds on the spot”. It seems that the police, the courts, and the prisons are so overloaded that the justice system hopes to keep hundreds of thousands of offenders for such crimes as assault, assault on a police officer, threatening behavior, all kinds of thefts up to the value of 100 pounds, possession of cannabis, and drunkenness out of court and out of the prisons by simply fining the miscreants an immediate fine of 100 pounds. One assumes from the text that if the mugger or thief doesn’t have 100 pounds on his/her person that they will receive a “ticket” requiring rapid payment. The penalty for lack of payment is not clear from the article. It must be noted, in fairness that the Magistrates Association is opposing this system, but all in all, doesn’t that give the old and arthritic tourist a sense of safety and protection?

There were other interesting articles about the problems faced by the European Union’s four newest recruits, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia where both economic problems and Ethnic ones are undercutting the governments, but one of the most interesting pieces was the scrapping of a Mozart opera by the Deutsche Oper in Berlin for fear of an Islamic backlash. It seems that the opera Idomeneo contains a scene where the decapitated head of Muhammed (along with those of Jesus, Buddha, and Poseidon, the worshipers of whom must be regarded a sanguine about the performance).
In the column by Nick Hume it is mentioned that no Muslim had issued a word of protest. It seems that one anonymous operagoer who saw an earlier production told the police that he/she felt that Muslims might be offended. I loved Hume’s comment that “Who needs book burners or theatre-door protesters when Europe’s cultural elite is prepared to tear up scripts or turn out the lights? Should we send the sensitivity police into the libraries and theatres to weed out all references to religion in general and Islam in particular?”

Out of the books and back to the trip. We had a lovely flight to Finland with only a few minor and embarrassing episodes at its conclusion.
First embarrassing moment came at arrival in Finland. I rented a car, a little bitty Chevrolet that is not marketed in the U.S. I went to the Avis counter and where I had one reserved (My brother keeps telling me that I should use Eurocar, but I always get a pretty good price break from Avis.) We wheeled our absolute surplus of luggage out to our car (which seemed to be hiding from us, but we finally found it, piled in the luggage and drove away. When we had gone along for awhile I found the need to put the car in reverse. Now, I have to preface this confession that I have driven Chevrolet cars of all sizes and configurations including “five forward”, and I have driven multiple foreign cars with several differing shift patterns. On these, the reverse gears have been configured in a variety of ways. For some you push down on the gearshift before shifting; on others
You pull up on the gearshift before shifting, others have buttons on top or the front of the gearshift, and I even drove a French car once that had a button on the steering wheel that had to be pushed for shifting into reverse. I tried all of these. We even got down on the floor and looked for secret pedals. Of course there was no owners manual in the Jockey box, or elsewhere on the car. Finally I wiggled into a space where I could turn around going front wards, (with the wheels only going a little bit up on the grass.) Did I turn around and drive the fifty kilometers back to the airport and scream for an owners manual? Of course not, I am a male, even if I have reached coothood and a male has pride, even an old one. (male, not pride--- or maybe both). Besides, we were almost to our timeshare. Or Not. The maps in the jockey box were pitiful. The descriptions from RCI of how to reach the place were deceptive. We drove sixty kilometers in various directions trying to find this place which had an address that included a village six blocks in diameter. Of course some of this distance was the result of having to drive to an intersection or bus stop to find a place in the road wide enough to turn around in without using reverse gear. Our situation would have been eased if we had had a cell phone that worked in Finland but that was not the case. There were no landlines or phone booths or anything like that within miles. We found the place, a really lovely little cottage with its own sauna, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, and TV, and with a loft and six beds, of which we were to use only one. It seemed like a waste. I wanted to run down the street and find someone to be a guest. We were in the boundaries of a village named Isnas, on the edge of a thirty six hole golf course, in a wooded section with a restaurant and marina about sixty yards away, and a beach (in Finland, in September, that is a somewhat over rated facility). Fortunately it had a driveway that went up hill so that if I needed to back out of the driveway, I had but to put the car in neutral to do so. We had stopped at a minute mart along the highway, eaten a delicious sandwich, and picked up some dinner supplies for the future, so we moved in and unpacked. We decide to watch TV for a little while (I’m hoping that doing so will help my Finnish language come back a little faster) then take a sauna and go to bed. This would have been more successful if I had been able to figure out how to turn on the sauna, but we had a pleasant evening and fell fast asleep.

We had every intention of attending a church service in Helsinki (fifty kilometers away) at about eleven the next morning. When I woke up and stretched, I looked at my watch, and it was three eighteen PM. We had slept about fifteen hours. I guess Jet lag and a good bed will do that to you, but it was still a bit irritating. My first urge was to jump back in and try for a full twenty four, but hunger ruled that out.


At 4:33 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I wondered where you were. Boy, London sure seems to have changed. Mind you I haven't been there in over 20 years. I also now have a problem with the Biritsh accents in spite of having lived there for 8 years and in spite of having an accent myself that is often mistaken for British. I sometimes wish they would put subtitles on British movies. Finlnad sounds a lot nicer than London.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

PS You know I will keep you both in my prayers.

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I am hoping that you are seeing good progress with Janet's recovery. You are in my prayers and will be each day.

At 12:46 AM, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

10 09 06

Hey Richard:
What a wonderful way you put together language! London sounds a bit icky, but Finland sounds quite appealing! I have been thinking of you and Janet and am glad you made it back safely. How wonderful that she got treatment! Sending good thoughts your way now:)

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

You both are in my prayers. I hope all's well.

As I've said before, you look a great deal like my dad, and in many ways, you ARE like him. You also have the walking thing in common. Although he walks religiously every day, it's tough on him. He was lucky enough to tour The Holy Land before it got this bad, because he surely couldn't go now.

Take care of yourself, please. Often a worried spouse will neglect themselves and you need to stay tough for your kids sake.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

October 9th...You and Janet are in my prayers each day. Saur made a good point about taking care of yourself. Please, do what you can to stay strong.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Gayle said...

What an interesting read. I would like to know if you ever figured out how to put that dang car in reverse? I'm curious to know what the trick is, although I doubt if I will ever drive one of those.

Interesting, all the details you gave about London. I don't believe charging a mugger 100 pounds on the spot is going to be much of a deterrent. It sounds to me like London is quite a mess.

Finland does sound wonderful however, and if you slept that long you must have really needed it, probably because of all the stress of driving a car all over the countryside without being able to put it in reverse. That would give me fits!

Blessings, Richard, and prayers that your wife recovers nicely and that you both are able to enjoy the remainder of your trip.


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