Friday, October 9, 2009

Back on the Bus, Day Four, Bleinheim Palace and Jacked up Potatoes

Day four came early, 7 am to be exact. I woke up in the middle of the night again, but instead read my new book: "Slavery By Another Name" one of the most brilliant and heart breaking books I have read in some time. It explains a lot about what we don't know that happened after slavery, that quite frankly it never really ended. We ran to breakfast, after placing our bags outside our door, for runny eggs, sausages that make you sick and more "brown toast." At least the coffee has caffeine.

After breakfast we boarded the bus for a trip to the England countryside, Bleinheim Palace, where the Duke of Marlborough lives and where Winston Churchill was born and on to William Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford Upon Avon. On the bus at 8 am I thought, "sleep will come easy." Not so fast. From the moment we left our hotel in downtown England, our tour guide Robert began the "tour." Every piece of landmark would be described to us, which would be interesting if I wasn't fighting for sleep. Before we boarded, however we looked on the door to see where we were "assigned" to sit. Almost the front row, "we hit the jackpot" I screamed to N. She glared, "not now."

The ride to Bleinheim Palace was quick, just to the northwest out of London near the beautiful town of Oxford which we skirted, onto Woodstock where the palace lay. Though I was tired I couldn't sleep and listened to the description of many sites we were seeing on the way, where Manchester United plays, horse farms, nothing exciting. Two friends in front, however had a beautiful map and I commented on it, "Dawn" and "Sue Ann." They were older (obviously), but spry, seemingly new to retirement, they told us they had just been to Tanzania and loved every minute of it, "we love to travel." We asked them what they did in London on our last day. They went to the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, a couple of other museums, went back to the hotel to change, immediately set out for dinner, onto Piccadilly Circus in the theater district and saw "Billy Elliott" the musical at a "magnificent theater." "We didn't want to leave" they ranted. N and I thought to ourselves, "damn, these retirees have some energy." We were barely standing at 8 o'clock. I whispered to N, "I think they might be liberal -- I hope" with a sense of awe, almost begging for someone to talk to about our world. N smirked, rolled her eyes and said: "maybe."

We arrived at the Palace before 10:00 am, "the facilities are on the right" Robert proclaimed, an echo that would reverberate for 11 more days. Like sheep we all rushed to the bathroom, like school children we tried to be the first in line. We entered Bleinheim Palace shortly thereafter, and were told to look around the grounds before entering the actual palace. It was stunning, a magnificent landmark with beautiful grounds. N. commented, "well if you want to know what Versailles looks like, this is pretty close." In Paris we were unable to visit Versailles because of the train strike. We flashed our cameras, took hundreds of pictures amongst ourselves, though N was being quite conservative with the digital camera. Winston Churchill was born here, which I found a little shocking. Arguably, Britain's greatest Prime Minister was also born into royalty? Bleinheim is the Duke of Marlboro's residence, first built in the early 1700's as a gift from Queen Anne to Sir Churchill (Winston's distant ancestor) as a gift for his heroics in the War of Spanish Succession against the French. Winston Churchill is a nephew of one of the Dukes. The Duke and Duchess still live here today.

We entered the marvelous structures, which were visually stunning, the very cool art on the ceiling as you passed through the large doors, viewed many a monument to Sir Winston Churchill, a self-guided tour, it seemed hundreds of people, and scores of tour buses descended upon the Palace within minutes. Some of the rooms were jaw-dropping, marvelous looking, opulent, but a glorious past of thievery from Europe and its own people, a monument to feudalism. Impressive nonetheless, we took a glance at the current Duke and Duchess, gloriously throwing parties and overseeing horse and dog shows. Gag. N. and I went outside to the gardens which were also beautiful, some Italian gardens that were off-limits and we sat and rested, took pictures and laughed at the absurdity of being stuck with 22 unknowns, our family for two weeks. So, far four people are nice, 20 more to discover. As we walked toward the cafe and gift shop, a woman approached with a dog in the gardens, I looked at N., " What's up with this lady, you think they allow dogs in here?"

She passed us and smiled at us, impeccably dressed, and attractive. She walked the dog to the end of the garden, we stopped noticing her and sat on a bench, but when the dog peed all over the bushes, we stopped and were incredulous. Then, it hit me: "That's the Duchess of Marlborough, sweetie. I saw her in one of the pictures. This is her fucking house!" Eloquently I spoke. "You're right," N whispered much more serene in her viewing of a royal family member. A descendant of Sir Winston Churchill and a descendant of the first Duke of Marlborough. It was hard not to be impressed. N and I seemed to be the only one that noticed, she passed us again with her beautiful Golden Retriever and smiled at us, understanding we knew something was up, though not another soul in the gardens did. The tourists around her taking pictures as she strolled gently through the gardens of her own home, oblivious to the Duchess walking among them. Back on the bus we headed out.

Next stop was Stratford upon Avon, quite the name of William Shakespeare's home. Kind of like the town in Massachusetts near where I grew up, but life times away, called: "Manchester By the Sea." Here is where we stopped for lunch, excited we were given a couple of hours alone to explore, we searched for a lunch place for a while as we strolled the town square, we noticed the food seemed to be getting worse as we travelled north, the alcohol more available. After 20 minutes we settled in a little place, that was very busy, and disorganized. Their specialty: "Jacket Potatoes." The impression I interred from these potatoes was how many different kinds of food can you pile on the top? Cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream, anything you put your hands on, shove it on top. We started referring to the delicacy as "Jacked Up Potatoes" which seemed appropriate. We strolled around the town, had some very good ice cream, but were less than impressed, a bit of a cheesy stop along the way. N and I ended our tour of William Shakespeare's hometown at a Belgian coffee shop, read the paper and relaxed before departing for the Welsh border in Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury was beautiful, breathtaking really, our residence for the night was at a former school for the blind on a beautiful piece of land in the lake district of England, we felt like we were royalty and were treated that way. The rooms were beautiful and gracious, but as we found out we wouldn't be spending much time in them: Bags out at 6:15, breakfast as fast you can stuff it down your throat, and bus leaves at 7 am. "Are they fucking kidding!" was my response. N's response was more subdued, but her eyes alarmed, "I'm not going to make it," she seemed to say as she looked at me. "I can't do this," she would say several times over the coming week. We placed our bags in the room that we spent only ten hours in and quickly walked the beautiful grounds, went to the bar and ordered a Bulmers cider, our drink of choice for the next 11 days, we shared a pint calmly on the grounds of this comforting Shrewsbury hotel. We sat at tables overlooking the grounds, a serene pond immediately staring at us, next to a couple from Dallas, we aptly dubbed them: "the Dallas Connection." They were wary of us, we were wary of them, so we sat at the next table and exchanged pleasantries. "Beautiful, isn't it?" "Gorgeous." "What a nice night?" "Tru Dat" I almost exclaimed to break the monotony. We tried to stir up conversation to no avail so we slowly enjoyed our Bulmers, N enjoying it as much as me.

Our other 20 cohorts soon joined us, they looked at the "Dallas Connection" and looked at us, and invariably everyone chose the "Dallas Connection" table, couple after couple, "Uh-oh," I whispered to N. "We might be shut out." Then, an older couple, a sort of May-December couple sat down. He was 91, she was in her early 60's probably and they were so pleasant, from Los Angeles as, "Coast people, just like us." He was a theater professor, dressed so dapper, she was very attractive, with a regal and familiar air about her that she was somebody. I said this to N., "She seems like she is from good stock" as my mother used to say. We had a nice conversation with them and we nicknamed them "John Huston and his midnight flame." All in all, it was a very pleasant drink by the beauty of the night in England. Called to dinner, we saw our friends Paul and April, dove for their table with another couple sitting there, and introduced ourselves; they were from Massachusetts, Red Sox fans. We have to have something in common, right?

I speak to the gentleman mostly before the dinner arrived, he was a lawyer, I tell him I am one too. We smile, "U.S. Marine Corps" he tells me. Uh-oh. "I work for the Public Defender," I spout out. A pause, I stab the tension with a question, "What do you practice?" It turns out, his long career began in the JAG corps, at many oversees bases, wherever they sent him. Recently, he was in Iraq early just after the invasion in 2003 to help set-up the sovereign government of Paul Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority; he oversaw the writing of the new free zones of Iraq, meaning pure capitalism, one of the only places in the world that this was practiced. He helped write the legal system of the new government and when that was done, he departed. A liberal he is not, but I was enthralled, and as a military man, he was respectful and kind. He also helped repatriate Haitians found on the high seas between Haiti and Florida, until the U.S. abandoned them and he oversaw their re-patriation in other countries, Suriname, Guatemala and El Salvador. I told him I did appellate work and he liked that and wanted to do that himself.

Suddenly, I hear April at the table ranting about Obama, "he is wrecking the country." I saw that I was needed in this conversation, she had been trying to get us to show our hand where we were, "these young people." "He is sending the country into socialism." "He is not a socialist!" I said incredulous, but respectful. "He is trying to---" she interrupted, "well I don't know one person who supports him, where he is going." N. looks at me, I see her out of the corner of my eye. "I support him." It seemed not just our table quieted, but the entire room, eerily silent, all eyes on this "young" 41 year old. "In fact, it was so important to me, I quit my job to work for him in Florida, registering voters and helping people vote. After the last eight years of horror we have seen I am going to give him a chance. He isn't perfect by a long stretch, but after Bush he is certainly welcome." I heard rumblings, grumblings about "be careful what you wish for." It was freedom though, finally I said what is on my mind. The U.S. Marine Corps Colonel echoed my opinion about the last eight years, weary of Obama, but understood he said to me privately.

We were back to our meals which were wonderful, April laughing and goofing off, N. speaking to Paul about his ex-wife, "the love of his life" who died suddenly of a heart attack eight years ago, tears in his eyes, N. and he shared a beautiful moment. After he found April, however he found love again, April who is a pistol, most certainly has a story and she intrigues me like no other, how she talks about her children with such pride and joy. I spoke to the Colonel, who actually lives in D.C., his wife in Massachusetts, they have two kids and it seems, though they never said this, they were "working things out." His wife, annoying, but as they say in Boston "wicked smaaht" with a harsh Boston accent.

N. and I walked the grounds of Shrewsbury after dinner, not wanting to go to bed, unapologetic in taking this tour, we finally felt, "this might be ok." It might test our spirits, our psyche, and we might need rest afterwards, but these Republicans are kind of interesting, not hateful and maybe we might show them liberals aren't so bad. Off to bed, it was nearly 11:00 PM and we needed to be up at the crack of dawn to embark on our next adventure in medieval Chester.

1 comment:

lice said...

Do u think April knows what a socialist is?