Now we’re all flying Con Air

Used to be that unless you had a condom full of hashish stuffed up your ass, you could move about this world without much stress or worry. Now anyone who tries to board a plane knows what it feels like to be a would-be drug smuggler.

The stuff might be in their shoes. Take them off. In your belt. Take it off. Your jacket, everything in your bag, your cell phone, tablet, laptop. Into the tray for X-ray. Put your feet on the footprints, hold your hands over your head for the full body scan. Might as well spread your cheeks.

Maybe making everyone feel like a criminal or an inmate at ADX is the price Americans pay to fly the non-so-friendly skies these days. It’s nice to be safe, especially at a time when everyone in the world has reason to strike out against lunatic-led countries such as North Korea, Iran and the United States. Who knows when some sane grandmother from Lichtenstein or Canada might strike out against this Axis of Weasels’?

Maybe the designated culprit will be disguised as a four-year-old, like our grandson who was pulled out of the boarding line for a second go-round with the Transportation Security Administration. The explosive might be disguised as raspberry jam, like the jar I tried to bring to a friend back home in Ohio. Or shoe polish, like that taken from Officer John, who had to wear scuffed shoes to a wedding. Or maybe in an inky jar of vanilla extract, like the one that beleaguered us as we tried to return from Mexico recently.

We cleared security as we left Oaxaca, Mexico, and again when we changed flights at the Mexico City airport. From Oaxaca to Seattle 12 hours later, we never went outside a secure area. None of that made any difference when we went through security for a third time at Salt Lake City’s airport. The TSA checkers found the three jars of vanilla extract we had purchased in the duty-free store during the stopover in Mexico City. The goods were put in a bag marked duty free and sealed with a plastic zip tie.

Not good enough, said the duty-bound rule enforcer. It has to have a tag on the zip tie that says, “Cross our hearts and hope to die, there’s no terrorist beyond this tie” or some such language.

The agent said he was sorry but he had to follow the rules.

Two choices: Surrender the vanilla extract or check another bag with it inside.

Door number three: Kathy, tired and grumpy, clobbers the agent with her handbag, sends him through the X-ray machine and starts hollering “Vanilla extract matters!” We spend the rest of our lives at ADX.

Time to step in before that door gets opened. I take the three bottles down to the Delta desk, rearrange my shoulder bag to fit them inside and check it through to Seattle despite being told it’s not regulation size. Then it was back through security for the fourth time that day.

IMG_3735.JPGYou could smell my shoulder bag before it arrived on the baggage carousel in Seattle. One of the three bottles had broken but fortunately had not brought down the plane in flight. It did turn my faithful notebook into the “Vanilla Diaries,” now has a nice aged appearance.

We’ve been reacting to the “Liquid Bomb Plot” since August 2006 when three bottle-heads in London were mercifully stopped from carrying through on plans to concoct a bomb from chemicals carried aboard separately. All three are resting uncomfortably, we can hope, in British prisons for the next 30 or so years.

But can we please make some room for common sense? Give the TSA people a little leeway to make decisions on their own? Allow passengers to taste their raspberry jam, vanilla extract or shoe polish (?!) to prove it’s the real stuff as mothers carrying breast milk have been asked to do?

Besides, in the overall scheme of things, taking my shoes off at the airport has not made the world a safer place for many people. Showing off the holes in my socks did not save the 58 people killed and the 500 wounded during a country music concert in Las Vegas. It didn’t save the 26 people killed in a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherlin Springs, Texas, or the nine shot to death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Or the 49 dead at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., or the 14 dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Or on and on and on . . .

We seem unwilling to do much to stop the terror within our borders while keeping everyone on high alert to keep out the imported variety. I’m not big on terrorism from any quarter and would cast a plague on all its sources: Akbar on your Ali-babi-ding-dong and same to our Iraqi-tacki bush wars.

Dump the fear-mongering and leave the pre-boarding jitters to those with their heads up their asses.

Looking back on our last day in London

Alien
It was the day after Halloween and some strange beings were returning home from the night before.

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for the past couple weeks as we get resettled back in Seattle, but the resettling has taken more time than I thought it would.

I wanted to look back on our last day in London. Our goal was to get out and see more of the city with stops at the National Gallery and Covent Gardens. We had a beautiful day to walk around. We did some of that, but we returned to the best way of getting around London — the Underground.

Car
Halloween night left some sleepy Underground riders the next morning.

It was a particularly interesting day for watching people on the Tube. Halloween was the day before and we saw several creatures returning from overnight stays in who knows where, some of their costumes looking worse for wear.

Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery, was filled with people watching street performers and more “human statues,” but none as good as the one we saw in Bath. The weather was fine, so fine, but the agenda called for going inside the gallery, so we went.

Fountain
One of the fountains in Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery.

Glad we did. The Goya exhibit showed another side of this Spanish artist and gave some of the history of the period he lived in.

From there, we walked to Covent Gardens and some follow-up shopping that Kathy wanted to do before leaving England. The coup of the day for me was grabbing a particular cap off a mannequin in the official Rugby World Cup store there. It has a badge showing the Webb Ellis trophy on the front, a plaid lining and the Rugby World Cup 2015 insignia on the side. We saw it at an official shop at the Twickenham stadium, didn’t buy it then and never saw it again until Mr. Mannequin doffed his cap to us. I bet it was the last one in the land.

We had one more pub meal in London and then headed back to our hotel to pack for the flight home the next day when we got our only real dose of London fog. We sat in the soup on the runway for two hours before taking off on a smooth ride home. A fitting goodbye to London and England for now.

Covent Garden
Inside Covent Gardens markets.

 

Modern museums specialize in sensory overload

This statue of Churchill is near the Churchill Museum and Imperial War Rooms.
This statue of Churchill is near the Churchill Museum and Imperial War Rooms.

“We shall never surrender,” Winston Churchill said, but for me, the time has come to surrender to modern museums.

There was a time when you could go to a museum and study every exhibit, read every plaque, absorb most, if not all, of what the museum had to offer.

Some museums were too big to assail, even in the old days of plaques and displays. Absorbing a fraction of what the British Museum has to offer is a life’s work. Same with the Louvre, the Smithsonian, the Ashmolean here in Oxford, or the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, to name some that I have visited.

This mode of transportation passed me on the way to the museum.
This mode of transportation passed me on the way to the museum.

But in all of those places it used be that “had we but time enough,” we could run our eyes over everything on display, take in all the words posted before those exhibits. You might run out of life and time, but theoretically it was possible to take it all in.

Not any more.

This first started to become clear to me at the Bletchley Park museum. Audio and film or video commentaries have been in museums for some time. Now add to that digital interactive displays that let you try your hand at cracking the Nazi Enigma code from World War II. It’s overwhelming and comes at you through all senses.

It was the same in the Churchill Museum and Imperial War Rooms. With your 18 pound admission fee you are given an audio console you can wear around your neck. Arrive at numbered positions and you can key in that number to hear a narrative of what took place at that spot. The rooms have been left as they were in 1945 when World War II ended. So you can see and feel what life was like in these narrow corridors and cramped rooms. Add to that the sound of bombs going off as they were during the Blitz of 1940 and the shrill noise of V-1 and V-2 rockets in 1945 and you get a sense of the discomfort and trepidation that occupants must have felt.

Walk into other rooms and there are videos of film taken during the war, others of war-room workers relating their experiences, kiosks where you can play Churchill’s speeches or select his witticisms (“A modest man, who has much to be modest about”) by the year uttered, photographs from Churchill’s life and from the war fronts. The epitome of museum overload comes at what I would call a “light table” that starts with Churchill’s birth in 1874 and goes through his death in 1965. Place your hand on one of the years displayed on this yards-long table and text is displayed about what happened to Churchill and in the world during that year. In some of the years, you can go month-to-month.

As you walk along reading all this, you notice out of the corner of your eye other screens with videos going, hear other narratives, see posters from the war years, are tempted to go here, go there.

This is not meant as a complaint about the Churchill Museum or other modern museums. It’s just a declaration of surrender to them. I know I’ll never be able to “conquer” all that these places have to offer, now displayed to all senses in all parts of the museum, all running simultaneously.

Affirmation that there is so much to know and so little time to know it.

As a former Duck captain, I can't help but take pictures of them when I see them in other cities -- despite the tragic accident in Seattle.
As a former Duck captain, I can’t help but take pictures of them when I see them in other cities — despite the tragic accident in Seattle.

A busy, busy day in London

London from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
London and the Thames River from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge and a play in Leicester Square — that’s a fully packed day in London, one that had us almost sprinting at the end to get to our seats at the Wyndham Theater in time for the curtain for “The Father.”

As you climb up to the top of the St. Paul's dome, there's one place where they let you take a photograph looking down to the cathedral floor.
As you climb up to the top of the St. Paul’s dome, there’s one place where they let you take a photograph looking down to the cathedral floor.

It started at the train station in Oxford, of course, the beginning for many of our adventures these days. Into Paddington Station, on to Leicester Square on the Underground to check on theater tickets for that day. “Hamlet” with Benedict Cumberbatch is only a remote possibility although it has been done. “Photograph 51” with Nicole Kidman was a request that raised a “are you kidding?” eyebrow from the ticket agent and an offer of a list of plays where tickets were available. We retreated to a corner in the tube station and decided on “The Father.”

Then it was back on the tube to St. Paul’s. Kathy and I were here in 1982 but the place is still amazing. My favorite part is climbing the 500 plus steps up to the top of the dome and having a good look around London. Even on a cloudy day, it’s an impressive view of this huge city.

Looking back at St. Paul's from the Millennium Foot Bridge across the Thames.
Looking back at St. Paul’s from the Millennium Foot Bridge across the Thames.

Then there is all the history about the place: A religious site since 604 A.D., a cathedral with a spire even taller than the present dome, the destruction by fires, the design of the present structure by Christopher Wren, the bombing during World War II and the reconstruction since then.

We left St. Paul’s, had lunch and then crossed the Thames River on the Millennium Bridge. That lands you just next to the Globe Theater, which unfortunately for us is closed until next April when the outdoor Shakespeare productions will resume.

We somehow got it in our heads that we could walk down to the Tower Bridge, cross it and then walk back to Leicester Square in time for the 7:30 start of the play. We proved that it can be done in little more than an hour — if you set an Olympic race-walking pace and risk your lives jay walking in the dark.

Kathy and Cyndi in front of the Globe Theater.
Kathy and Cyndi in front of the Globe Theater.

It also means getting only a fleeting glimpse of some sights that we should come back to, although we have already visited the Tower of London during our grand tour in 1982. But we need to get Cyndi, our latest visitor, there before she leaves next week.

We were glad that we got in our seats in time for “The Father,” a play by Florian Zeller, starring Kenneth Cranham as Andre, an older man going through the stages of dementia. The playwrights succeeds, I think, where so many writers fail. That is in demonstrating a confused mental state by portraying the confusion in the writing or in the presentation of the play. More often than not, the effort just ends up being . . . confusing, with no understanding or empathy passed on about how terrifying or disconcerting this must be to the sufferer.

It’s a grim subject but Zeller and the actors manage bits of humor that keep the audience from retreating to the exits or rustling around in purses or pockets for hankies until the end of the play.

See this one if it comes your way.

Home on the train. We’re back in London tomorrow to take in a sight and then head for Twickenham for a semi-final game in the Rugby World Cup: New Zealand vs. South Africa. The Kiwis are heavily favored.

A replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake's ship.
A replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship.
Walking across the Tower Bridge.
Walking across the Tower Bridge.
Tower of London
Tower of London

Camden Market: Like a hundred Pike Place Markets

Last Saturday before the South Africa-Wales game at Twickenham, we spent part of the day at London’s Camden Markets, at the suggestion of Eddie, who had been there before.

This is the Horse Tunnel in the Stables part of the Camden Market.
This is the Horse Tunnel in the Stables part of the Camden Market.

What a place!

First of all, there are the crowds. Never seen so many people funneled through so many narrow aisles and spilling out into heavily populated food courts with tents, carts and stands serving every kind of dish you can imagine. The three of us went for Thai and Jamaica jerked chicken before finding a stand that sold chocolate filled churros — hot and syrupy innards.

It would be like taking the stream of people on a Saturday morning at Pike Place Market in Seattle and multiplying it by a hundred through channels of vintage clothing, leather goods, antiques, cooking ware, china, vinyl records, hats, gowns and just about everything else anyone might need or not, all there for purchase.

Our first stop was at the Cyberdog shop, three floors of pulsating music, black lights and strange techno objects for purchase. We bought a present for a certain young man who turns 32 this Friday. Hope you like it, Jake.

Dancing into the entrace of the Cyberdog
Dancing into the entrance of the Cyberdog