Incinerated on Reentry

(This might be a blog post to skip if you’re over hearing about how much the world, for us, has changed. We do realize we’ve kind of been going on about it.)


“I don’t think anyone expects the reentry to be as hard as it is. We hear a
lot about culture shock, but there’s a reverse as well. Coming home is hard. It’s still home, but it’s also not. And we get frustrated with ourselves because it doesn’t all happen naturally and easily, the way we think it should.” — A Pilgrim

In the past two months, we’ve had some interesting conversations with acquaintances and friends who have lived abroad – ambassador’s kids, travelers, international business folk. As we’ve found our present circumstances fitting us about as well as a scratchy shirt, we’ve been wondering if we somehow missed a memo from the universe on how to live now. Everything is … mostly normal, but somehow still vaguely… wrong. And to those of you whose quick snarky reflex is to write us an email about “obviously, America has changed in the past five years,” please don’t. Things are a little less than obvious from where we’re standing.

2012 Benicia 013

It has been good to realize that other people have struggled in the same way. We have watched friends move – and and move again. An acquaintance who had been educated abroad, and lived abroad for five years after college, had to take a weekend alone to balance between fear and anticipation about going home. Others have had children to help create the transition – planning schooling and finding a roof for the whole family gives one time to think and decompress and prepare for the personal stuff. But, in the end, it’s all a little bit of background noise and distraction. When the quiet moments come, it still hits you: everything is changed. Everything.

It probably would have been good if we’d been forewarned. Instead, it was one small disaster after another – stupid visa drama, stupid house stuff – which is the way life always goes. In some ways, we were whirled around and spat out on these shores, completely unprepared. In many ways, we shouldn’t have needed to prepare — after all, this is home, right? …sure, sure, there’s that cliché about never being able to really go there, but that was a cliché, right…?

“…I think once an expat, always partially an expat. That square peg feeling will recede, but it never entirely goes away. You lose the person you were before … Life continues there, as it does here, and we can’t be in both places at once. And in some ways, we can never only be in one place again. Part of us is always there.” — An Observer

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It’s peculiarly comforting to know that other people have found themselves in the same conundrum. An irritating restlessness, a maddening inability to just settle – whether this is settling in or settling down. Something is always wrong, like the three bears’ chairs — too soft, too hard, too this or that. We’ve been house hunting in various nations and towns since June, when we arrived, and we’re hurtling toward September (ED: Or, we were when T. started writing this. And now we’re IN), still sleeping in the guestrooms of friends and relatives, still depending on the kindness of, if not strangers, people who themselves have their own needs and their own plans and agendas.

We’d started to feel, frankly, a little insane. And we knew — we know — that some of you think we’re crazy, too. Some of you have been quite clear on that fact.

We will settle if we can. We will choose when we know the parameters of our choices. We would give much to simply sit down like normal people and get on with the business of living, instead of longing desperately to just go home — to a place where we no longer live, to lives that no longer exist — and maybe never did, as hindsight and nostalgia eventually colors everything.

[When I came back]”…I found other people are not so interested in other cultures. They don’t understand our need to explore new places or our nostalgia of places once lived. I still have a certain fondness for anything [from that place]. I think moving away … is a good thing. You still have ties … So, it’s not like you’re never going back, which was my fear — That I was stuck. Maybe that’s what ails us. We got used to always learning new things and going to new places, trying new foods.” — An Expatriate

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The good thing about building again, from the ground up, is that it is possible. Entire nations, razed by war, learned to salvage bricks and make from the shattered stones a new mortar. We’ve certainly not been decimated by violence, rather than by the ever-moving stream of life, of the things that just are — and so it’ll be a simple matter to find a few cords that are familiar, and set ourselves to weaving them again, into making a life. To thoroughly mix metaphors.

It’s funny, but the last five years of our lives are a real issue for not us, but for landlords and banks and people who like to account for who we are and where we’ve been. It was tricky getting started in the UK for the same reason, but we had the excuse that we were students. Now that we’re back… well, who are we? And what do we have to show for our years away?

“It’s surprisingly hard, in a confusing way. And it’s sort of this unseen wound or ache. It’s worse because no one expects it — not you, not your family.
But if it makes anything better, everyone I know who has come back — even just from long-term travel — has experienced something similar. And it takes everyone by surprise. Everyone.” — A Pilgrim

We’ve been kind of through the fire… but someone finally took a chance on us. It took filling out long applications, pulling tax forms, check stubs, and bank statements. It took an act of faith — a real one — for the people who own the house. But, we’ve made the first tentative stab of putting down roots — maybe just shallow ones for now, but roots. We’ve got an address.

Step 1.

-D & T

Desert House Hunt, Day 1

Just to give you a flavor of what it’s like to drive through the Mojave Desert, Mormon Rock, and surrounding areas, the picture below is why we love it: a land of high-contrast scenery, Joshua trees and cacti, scrub-brush and sand. It’s truly a dramatic place – and the car even got drenched by a rare rainstorm!

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After our drive down from Northern California, we took a day to rest and plan out the house hunt. Today, we made the hour’s drive out to Desert Hot Springs to see a possibility (nope – definitely beautiful views, but the pool was a mere puddle, and had built-in barstools) and then on to La Quinta to view another (awesome landscape, but again, a truly miniature pool). Tomorrow we’re speaking with some realtors who specialize in the area, and should be out tomorrow evening to see a few more places, hopefully.

We’ve narrowed the search a bit, in some ways, having driven through the whole area today. We’ve ruled out Desert Hot Springs as being just a bit too far off the beaten path and as having nothing really there except for a few spas (hence, “hot springs”). We’ve also decided that Indian Wells is far too much of a resort place, again without anything much in terms of people living there who aren’t wealthy and retired or in the service industries. We particularly liked Palm Desert, and could probably extend that liking into Thousand Palms – not only did they look like real places, where people have occupations other than playing golf or serving drinks, but there are a number of colleges and university extension campuses in the area, so D. could likely pick up a few hours of teaching.

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The heat, here, is … well, not so hot. Yes, it’s been up above 100°F / 40°C consistently, but because it’s dry, you just don’t notice. Every time we’ve gotten out of the car, we’ve said, “huh, well, it’s hot.” Your body sweats, but the dry air evaporates it to cool you, and if you don’t linger at high noon, it’s reasonable to be out in the heat. It’s not something which can be understood without experiencing it, really – you have to be out in it, and to feel it, and then understand that it’s not so crazy to live in the desert.

The scenery is also something to behold. Hopefully when we’re settled we’ll be able to take some decent photos to share which can express the beauty of the place. Until then, though, we’re going to be taking a few shots from the car as we drive, or from places we’re considering. We’re also still trying to pretzel ourselves around work commitments, so the quiet here will likely continue for at least a few more weeks.

Until the next episode…

-D & T

Hemos Vuelto

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Well, hello again.

Surprised that the landscape around us is so familiar? Yeah, well, so are we. We’ve returned from Puerto Rico and will be searching for a home closer to family in the States. We gave it an honest try, but between the traffic and the fact that our housing would be so far away from the University, well, we gave up the idea. Yes, it was a very quick trip, but we had to ask ourselves, “how long do we need to decide that we can’t make it work?”

After observing – up close – that American laws of the road, though given lip-service, are not enforced, T. said that she’d never be able to figure out how to drive there. We’re both lacking the essential cutthroat willing-to-use-car-as-weapon skills. D. said that he’d only drive if he had to, and that he’d never ride a bike there… We’d gone from looking at neighborhoods within walking distance of the University to an hour-long commute for a house that was in a good, safe, clean neighborhood. This isn’t what either of us wanted – a long, dangerous commute, and plunging into car culture with both feet. So, after D. had a great meeting with some Master’s students at UPR, we packed up, and decided to just call our time in the land of “Paradise” (it says so in the airport) a vacation. A strange vacation, where we spent more time house-hunting than hunting for a clean beach.

(Our decision was also helped by the fact that despite assuring us that our possessions were, indeed, in PR? They were not. They remain in a warehouse in Florida. Maybe.)

A bit bemused, we’re back California, grateful for friends who have once again provided a landing place and wheels. At least we both can work from anywhere, so we’ll be taking the next few weeks to catch up on various projects which need attention.

We don’t even know which way to hope anymore, in terms of finding a home…

Keep a good thought for us, won’t you?

-D & T

Those Tookish Hobbits

. . . the mother of this hobbit — of Bilbo Baggins, that is — was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small water that ran at the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures . . .

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him . . . Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves . . .

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

It started, more than anything, as a thing to pacify grieving. We said it to each other — “We’ll come back!” and “Surely we’ll come back,” and “Well, if the UKBA gets upset with us cancelling our visa application, we shouldn’t do it – we want to be able to come back.”

Coming back was obviously on both of our minds.

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But …why? Weren’t we the people complaining about the drunk Uni students singing Rule, Britannia! at 2 a.m. on Woodlands Road? Weren’t we the ones who had the neighbor with the six foot speaker and people sleeping in the hallway in front of his flat, on mattresses on Kent Road? Weren’t we the ones who got sick to death of opening the window and having grit blowing in — or worse, seeing BOOTS as the elevator went up and down the building on Cranston Street? Not to mention the people who peed on our back steps, the time we got the fly tipping ticket for doing what the rubbish collectors told us and putting our boxes next to the garbage bin, who hated stepping over vomit and other less savory things on the walks in various areas? Weren’t we the ones who moaned about the rain and the wind and the darkness? — and the SNOW!? Weren’t we the ones who hated it here?

Well, erm, yes. And, no.

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Into each life, a little rain must fall – well, A LOT of rain, if one is in Scotland. And, if you’re us, a lot of complaining and whinging and moaning about the things we deal with day-to-day. You, as unwitting members of our extended families, have heard all of our vexed complaints as well as our lighter moments, but you might have been able to step back from the Seurat-life in the making as we could not. Suddenly all of the impressionistic blotches that made up our day-to-day existence, when we stepped back to look, formed a life. A life that we were going to have a hard time giving up.

So, we told ourselves we were coming back.

And then, after our last concert, when T. was quietly mopping reddened eyes (much to the mockery of her dear Mr. S., who took one look at her and stared, mesmerized by horror. “You are not crying,” he stated, as if that would make it so. Foolish mortal.) we realized all the saying wasn’t going to make it true – unless we made an effort.

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T. learned that a friend-of-a-friend, an acquaintance whose blog she had lurked on, had died suddenly, from, of all horrible things, a pulmonary embolism. Because so many of our friends we only know through blogs, and, because her own mother escaped that just in November, she was horribly shaken. Coming back from the glorious weekend of music and cathedrals – we attended a lovely service at St. Mary’s, and went right on to rehearsal and did our concert after that – a long day, but well worth it — to find that life had ended, and everyone was left in grief and shock — that was awful. But, it underscored a horrific truth we often don’t want to face: stuff like that happens daily. Hourly. And the difference is the kind of life you live in between the darkness.

We didn’t want to be the people who always said we were “going” to do something, or wanted to do something, or planned and plotted for “someday.” That day, regrettably, has never yet arrived. Today is a much better option. As is, “now.”

Jane Yolen, celebrated author and poet, called American’s Hans Christian Anderson – lives half the year in Scotland, and half in New York. Author Elizabeth Wein – currently rising in the NYT bestseller list (T is ridiculously proud of her, and considers her a friend – albeit a friend who tried to kill us once, dragging to see salmon spawn on a drizzly day, when no one had on the right shoes) has lived here for many years now – and even has children with dual citizenship. There are others who come and go – but take pride in loving this prickly, cold, and sometimes difficult place.

Strangely, we do too.

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So, we’re coming back. At least a third of our lives will be spent here. We have no children, no dependents, nothing but the ties of love to knit us to other places – but the knitting is no less strong to this place. We’ll divide up the rest between necessity – seeing our family and living someplace warm enough to garden – but we have decided that it’s okay to leave our hearts here.

They’re in good hands.

So, we started this blog as Hobbits At Home, and later, Hobbits Abroad. We’ve lately wondered, now that we’re not quite going home, can we even be called Hobbits anymore? Aren’t hobbits the folk who stay at home and read and eat well, and basically just enjoy being somewhat hermit-y and nerdish and bookish and quiet? Well, yes. And, no. We’re the Tookish sort of Hobbit, descended from that one, quirky bit of lineage somewhere up the family tree – the ones who struggled with authority, the ones who never did fit into our regular lives very well, and the ones who are going to do this thing, this living thing, right for once.

We expect we’ll see you around, as we do it.

Notice
Steve Kowit

This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
showered,
got into this street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

~ from The Dumbbell Nebula, 2000

Iceland Bound

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SUCCESS! We have finally managed to retrieve our passports from the UK Borders Agency. Rather than sending them to the University (as instructed in the application, in the application withdrawal fax, and via the telephone), they sent them to our old flat. The one which sold…

Fortunately, the people at the University were on top of things and noticed that it’d been unable to be delivered, so D. went down to the Royal Mail Central Office in Stirling and begged – upon his knees (literally) – for them to search for the passports, telling them of the woes of being a student (in a broad, California accent) and having had the landlord sell the flat before the passports were returned. The kind gentleman of the post was unable to resist a large man kneeling before him begging and sent someone off to search (well, OK, D. doesn’t have a very loud voice, and was tired of shouting through the wee window).

20 minutes later, the passports were located: in a stack of mail to be returned to sender.

So, it is with a great mixture of glee and grief that we announce that we will be leaving this island, stopping off in Iceland for a few days (sans snow, huzzah!), visiting California for a restful four weeks or so, and then be moving on to the as-yet-undisclosed Caribbean Island Location. We will both be working from home, and will be splitting our time between visits to the mainland US, the warm island, and this cold island. We plan on returning to Scotland to spend a month at a time several times a year, in order for D. to visit his office, for us to see friends and to keep on singing with the City of Glasgow Chorus occasionally – who have recently announced a tour to Leipzig.

So, this time next week will see us packing everything into four suitcases, followed by a flurry of sunny pictures from Reykjavik (they have 20 hours of daylight, this time of year), followed by a return to California for the first time in two years. We’ll see some of you there.

-D & T

Transi(to)ry

Today is our last day in Cambusbarron, quiet village of sheep, mill buildings, and wind. At the moment, we’re supposed to be cleaning, packing up the last bits, etc., instead, we’re checking email and blogging as we don’t quite know whether we’ll be able to have reliable internet for the next few weeks.

As you may know, UKBA – the UK Border Agency – has had our passports since before February, and had made no progress on returning them to us. We’ve been advised by the University to cancel our visa extensions in order to travel. Apparently this won’t cause us any trouble in returning to the UK for visits, because they are at fault – after personnel cuts, they’re just too overwhelmed with the visa for the Olympics (and some some MAJOR technical difficulties – all is not well in UKBA Paradise). A lack of visa is also the case for our erstwhile Elijah for the May 26 performance of Mendelssohn’s beloved oratorio: he’s stuck in Brazil, and has been waiting for weeks, so our maestro has had to frantically locate someone else – which is a real shame, because Mr. de Souza, who sang Belshazzar’s Feast with us last year, has a stunning voice.

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After withdrawing our visa application, we expect to receive our passports within the next three weeks, and to travel at the beginning of June, first to Iceland, to spend a few days in Reykjavik, then home to California for a long-overdue long visit – all this, if the passports arrive in time for such leisure. After California, we’re off to Puerto Rico – we don’t know where, exactly, yet. We’ll certainly let you all know when we figure it out, though. This is the result of D. continuing a relationship with his boss here in the UK and beginning a relationship with universities in PR. We’ll keep you posted…

85 boxes / items shipped out this past Friday, on their way to our new home. All that remains to us is 4 suitcases, several computer bags, cameras, and D’s violin. We’re really hoping that it’s not that cold in Iceland, as we recently realized that between us we have a cardigan and two jackets… by the way, yes, there are gusts of wind in the tornado range, and it’s pouring. Why, yes, thank you, we DO feel intelligent sans coats…!

Believe it or not, we have a concert this evening!! Our last time singing choral classics, then we’ll pick up our suitcases and change addresses for – hopefully – only three weeks.

And now, to close down the network here, prepare for the concert, throw the last few food items into a laundry basket, and walk away yet again. Six moves in the last five years… oy. We are not home yet…

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

-D & T

In Which We Are Awash in Boxes, and Our Housekeeping SkilIs Are Disparaged

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You’ll have noted the long pauses in blog entries. The reason? We’re busily packing…

One of the things you never remember about moving is how …just… grubby the whole enterprise ends up being. It’s not that you never clean beneath your couches — we do, with a dust mop, at minimum on a weekly basis. It’s just that dust is a sneaky, sneaky thing, and like its namesake bunnies which breed horrifyingly quickly, it gets behind furniture and quietly gives birth. Add to it that the Georgian date of the building, the fact that they’re doing dig-up-the-sidewalks type of construction again just across the street (in front of Bridget’s old flat), and that we have single-paned windows that don’t really seal, and you get drifts of sand and flakes of paint along with the dust and the general human sheddings of dander, skin, and hair.

Remember how when you were little, sometimes certain parts of the floor were lava and you had to jump across? Yeah, well, when one is moving, at times the whole house is deemed lava-land. We want to perch atop our boxes and stare down in dismay. Instead we… clean. And clean. And clean again, as each new crop of dust bunnies (or slut’s wool, as T’s grandma used to call it – a bit more pejorative, that) reveals itself… because of course the property manager insists on running herds of potential renters through while we’re trying to pack everything away, and T. still grimaces when she remembers being teased once by the property inspector about a dusty baseboard.

It’s hard for us to see how finding new renters so soon is reasonable, as we’ve been in this flat for over two years. In the part of the U.S. where we’re from, the law states that after one year, an apartment has to be freshly painted, and the floors cleaned for the next tenants – it’s more of a health/safety law than anything else, but it does mean that there are frequently brightened apartments. Here, that’s not the law; the owner essentially does what they want, and in this case, the owner wants money, and so farewell to the idea of someone figuring out, once and for all, what is wrong with the boiler — we’re considering leaving the wooden spoon we use to jimmy the reset switch, but have a feeling that probably won’t help; farewell to the idea of scraping away the paint from the wooden windowsills and redoing them. Farewell to thoroughly cleaning the blinds and the drapes and removing the strange discolorations and molds from the ceiling where the tenant can’t reach. Just… shove in the next crop. ::sigh::

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When last we spoke on the topic – in June – we thought we were moving, but had no idea where we were going, and D. was sending out résumés in stacks. To Canada, to the U.S., to various companies with offices in Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, — he was taking interest in both academic and tech positions everywhere. To our surprise, there wasn’t a lot of response. While the economy is indeed job-poor, we thought that it would be fairly simple to find something acceptable… but companies are being cagey and going with closer candidates for shorter periods of time with more money, but no benefits. Universities have been mildly interested, but of course they want people with degrees-in-hand who don’t have any thought of tenure or anything but adjunct positions. After about four months of trying, D. realized that a.) since his grades for the PhD don’t post until December, job-hunting will be easier in January and b.) despite the fact that his contract was, on paper at least, meant to last ’til September, he’d worked himself out of work, and needed to rethink things in order to keep the roof over our heads. We realized that maybe it wasn’t yet time to leave this place, no matter what we thought we wanted.

Almost as soon as we came to this conclusion, a woman from a nearby town phoned and mentioned that she had seen D’s resume somewhere, and requested that he come and interview in Stirling at her company, forty minutes away. And just like that, things came together. D. starts the job next week as the head of the developers, so he’ll get to mentor and teach and do all those things he loves for as long we we’re here.

Meanwhile: the new place has double paned windows, is made of plain old brick instead of sandstone, and was built within the current century. This means it will hopefully breed less dust in the back corners of things, but there’s no guarantee on this. Flat hunting was trickier with the distances and having to take the train to all appointments, but we managed. We were too flustered to take any pictures, but it’s in a quiet little village called Cambusbarron and the townhouse is nestled next to picturesque woolen mills from the 1830’s.

The townhouse is tall and narrow like a treehouse – a narrow central stairway twists up with rooms branching off. First, downstairs the garage and a library (or what will be the library), with shower/toilet/sink combo and a door to a small backyard. The next floor has a lovely kitchen/living room open up in a bubble of light from north and south, which means those will be lighted rooms in the dark of winter as well as now. The full back wall of the kitchen is windows, as well as there being picture windows in the living room, to overlook the lovely fenced yard and larger greenbelt in the back. Up a floor from there are an office and a very tiny room which literally has only room for a table – we’ll make it a work room – a full bathroom, as well as another shower room for the master bedroom. (So now we’ve gone from one bathroom for the last several years, to three. Why we have all of this largess now…) Pictures to come soon.

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But, for now, all of that quiet and order of the new place is but a dream. Before us are ten more days of living with boxes and sorting things into piles of what goes, and what goes out to Oxfam. Right now, we ADORE Oxfam, and hope they enjoy the donation of paperbacks and kitchen stuff and nice-but-under-used clothing which will soon be theirs.

Meanwhile, D. has received some last changes to make to his thesis / dissertation thing before submitting it. Yes, you thought he had submitted it! So did he, but his advisers sprang into action suddenly and want to be sure it’s perfect before it goes on to the larger committee.

Ummmm…yeah. You see there’s a lot being left unsaid, and since this is a family blog, we’ll leave it that way. The bottom line to this sudden influx of input is that the date of the oral exams is irretrievably inching its way toward an October date, not a September one as was originally planned to facilitate an out-of-country student. It really is just as well that D. has a job in this country still, or he’d have to be flying back for exams, which would be an expensive nuisance. The way this whole process has gone has been a nuisance, but we keep reminding ourselves that soon it will be done, and D. will be the latest (and most unique) Dr. M.

That’s the news from Lake Glasgow, where the women are cranky, the house is filthy, and the men are running out of strapping tape…

Music Makes Home

Miami 09

So, we’re having a relaxing evening, playing Lexulous with relatives, each of us on our own computer, listening to Putomayo Music’s Latin Playground (at the moment – awhile ago it was the Out of Africa soundtrack, before that the Brandenburg Concertos).

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I looked over at T., at the beginning of the last song, and realized: Latin music is home for us both. She was dancing in her chair, as was I.

Last time we were home, while T. was getting her hair done, I went out for lunch. I went to a little Mexican restaurant and actually sat in, rather than taking away – it was simply so familiar, and tugged at me to stay. It’s strange: the second culture of California said “home” to me in a way which was so much stronger than anything else, and I realized that I’d missed it terribly.

It’s the same, listening to this album, on a full stereo.

Home seems to be Latin America, or, at least, the music of Latin America.

-D

Ambulance? Wha?

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Either “ambulance” means something different in the UK than in the US, or … well, let’s hope you really didn’t need one, if you got sick in London. I can just picture you, hugging the back of this guy, struggling for your life, while being driven to the hospital. Right. Sure.

Life will be busy for the next few weeks while 1) T. finishes up her latest novel, and 2) D. finishes up a draft of the first half of his PhD thesis / dissertation (whatever you call it in your country, you freaky strange people who can’t decide on the meaning of a word). Sorry for not posting, but … life happens.

Without ambulances for us thank God.

“Lately it occurs to me/ What a long strange trip it’s been…”

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The end of all things is nigh.

Well, not ALL things, but it’s definitely the end of our time here, and the end of an era. Driving through St. Helena to rescue our niece from her college campus (and our alma mater), we just *happened* to see this guy taking down the sign for Peters Video, a place we frequented in a Saturday Night Ritual for a couple of years with one of the faculty kids when we were in college. Said faculty “kid” is now 6’7″ and a college senior… so it’s probably okay for that era to be over.

But still – a moment of disquiet, when things end.

We’re beginning to feel like Emily saying goodbye to Grover’s Corners in Our Town. With apologies to Thornton Wilder: Goodbye, Sugar, who barks every time we come over. Goodbye, Salads of Greatness and Destiny, with ripe tomatoes and avocados and artichoke hearts. Goodbye, Napa Valley, and the new mustard flowers poking up bravely between the vines. Goodbye long reaches of sky and wide vistas. We’re going back to the sandstone edifices of Glesga city…Oh, California, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you…

Okay, we’re not really that mushy. But close. It’s especially hard for D. to change gears between being Here and There; in the U.S., he’s considered an adult, and makes decisions on his own, some of which people think are huge mistakes, and over which they take him to task vociferously. There’s the give-and-take of adulthood, and a sense of agency and responsibility to get things done. That’s not been our experience in the UK. There, he’s not only considered a student, but a child, and he’s buried under decades of “this is how we’ve always done it,” and “that’s quite an idea, son, but we’ll just keep doing it the way we know it works.” Progress — at the University, which was established in 1451 — and in the workplace, where he’s kind of regarded as the eccentric American. It’s a hard reboot, as it were, to go from Here to There. It’s a wholly different state of mind.

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Glesga, as it sounds in Scots Gaelic, has been calling us back for awhile now. D. bought a BART ticket last Thursday on the way to Southern California, and got a ten pence piece in his change. He only figured it out when he couldn’t make it fit into the machine again and said, “HEY! This isn’t a quarter!” The BART official told him to keep it as a souvenir. Yeah, right. On the same trip, the guy who watched him taking pictures — and thought he’d comment, one tourist to another — turned out to be from the Borders — in Scotland.

That Glesga place has a long reach.

No matter how many weeks we spend here, it’s never enough. We’ve discovered a sad truth: that you cannot squeeze your whole past life into six weeks. To all the people with whom we meant to have tea or meals or catch up with what’s been going on for the last ten years — to all the people who wanted to see us because of high school reunions this year, etc. etc. — sorry. We just didn’t have the time or energy to make the effort. Life goes forward, and sometimes all we can do is hold on for the ride. We’re grateful to the people who’ve fed and housed and entertained us for the last few weeks… knowing that the usual run for guests is three days, not six weeks, everyone has been remarkably tolerant.

LATER…

And that ride just went E-ticket; the dreaded 2 a.m. phone call from the neighbors in Glasgow has come. We expected the freezing weather to produce the results that we feared — water, water, everywhere, and poor neighbor Lesley is out a kitchen AGAIN. Ah, the joys of Georgian buildings and semi-modern plumbing.

The one thing we couldn’t foresee is that it wasn’t because of the freeze — it was because of us not flushing the toilet for six weeks. The wastewater runs on the outside of the flats, and apparently our bath was a place for ice to build up (brrrrrrrrr) and it blocked the pipe. Or, something did. And now, the firemen broke down the front door of our flat, the tub’s been ripped out, and T’s main concern is that the neighbors see just what a state the house was left in after packing and trying to do laundry and wake up to take a cab at 3 a.m.. Yes. The world now knows: we’re not always very neat.

Reche Canyon 65

::shudder::

That’s what’s awaiting us when we return – lots of mea culpa flowers, making nice with the neighbors, perhaps letting Lesley use OUR kitchen, and lots of workmen. AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!! None of our flats in Glasgow are ever going to be workmen free, and were so hoping… Well, possibly we’ll get a new tub and shower out of this all, if not a fully new bath suite. Thinking optimistically.

While we shudder to think how long that’s going to take, we remind ourselves that it could have been worse. It could be a new furnace we’re looking at — which, given the Baltic temps in Glasgow just now, would take much, much longer.


Meanwhile, T. has been slightly bemused by her nomination for the 41st NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Youth Literature. Mainly she’s bemused by the word “gala,” being included in the festivities and the pre-show hoopla. The word “gala” means to her gold lamé dresses, the living-dead celebrity reporters like Joan Rivers, and red carpets. She’s not big on anything but sweats and a good book, so the gala thing is all a bit much to her (sorry to A.F., and all of our Vacaville buddies who thought we would rush right down for the live-broadcast awards show in February), but it truly is an honor to be nominated with such a great group of authors, and she looks forward to sitting down to read all of the other books (four in all) in her category.

Right after the whole plumbing thing gets taken care of…