Monday, November 1, 2010

Endless Vacation 1/3: England

[I recently returned from a two-week stay in Europe. I traveled through three countries, met a ton of people, and even found some cool records. Here's a journal I kept of the trip.]

Blue Bell, Pa. to New York City, N.Y.

Jeremy picked us up around 11:45 a.m. and drove us to JFK. He's such a good friend; it's ridiculous. We left him a tip, hidden in the backseat. Checking in wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Just remember to take your shoes off when they ask you to. We don't board until 5.35 p.m., so Michelle and I have plenty of time to kill. We explore the airport, searching for lunch, and settle for a bistro.

I'm not sure if this has come up before, but the food they serve at airlines is bullshit.

New York City, N.Y. to London, England

I've never gotten used to flying. It goes with my general fear of heights - I hate giving up control and raising myself to a height where gravity could kill me with its terrible embrace. Still, the takeoff was uneventful. Michelle started mocking me for being nervous, and then, bam, we hit turbulence. We closed the window port and I cranked up Banner Pilot. All we can see outside is blackness anyway. Well, blackness and the wing trembling with every gust of wind. I picked an awful time to quit drinking. Now on to the reading and the countdown to death and the horrible gnashing of my teeth.

Michelle looks really cute cuddled up in her blanket, though. She's reading Ayn Rand.

The Muir luck kicks in halfway through the flight: We have bed bugs. But we also have free apple juice.

I couldn't sleep the night before we left - nervous excitement. Now I'm doing the same thing again. I just can't sleep in new/strange places, and the fact that it's only 10:30 p.m. back home isn't helping. But this stems from anticipation. I want to see England. I want to know the world and be known for more than my nationality.

It's still too dark, but we're over Ireland. That's going to be my next trip, to see my homeland. It was good enough for James Joyce and Kevin Shields, right?

London, England to Manchester, England

Heathrow is miles better than JFK. A little pricey, but the food is better and more vegetarian-friendly. Flight to Manchester got delayed. We're working on muscle memory and no real thought. Brains are fried, lids are heavy. It's 8:30 a.m. and I want to go to bed.

Had a scare finding Pete and Val [Michelle's dad's cousin and his wife. We mostly stayed with family on this trip, which is what made it so affordable. The whole thing only cost me about $1,000], but things were quickly sorted out. Talked for hours about family and work and life. Manchester is beautiful. This is how I wish Philadelphia looked, with rolling greens and cottages merging with the highways and trams. P/V treat us with utmost kindness, giving us lunch, dinner, and a place to sleep. I'm still adjusting to the time zone - I sprung out of bed ready for Friday, only to realize it's 11 p.m. on Thursday.

In England, the minority leader is called the Shadow Chancellor. HOW COOL IS THAT?

Took the tram Fri. to the center of Manchester proper. I was nervous about being in a foreign city on my own and on foot, but it's such a beautiful and open area. William Penn intended Philly to be one big urban garden, and Manchester almost mirrors that intention. Big gardens meet epic shops, with classic architecture spread all around. You can go from a garden to a Ferris wheel to a sprawling department store to the Cathedral of Manchester in seconds. Still adjusting to the food, but man can Brits brew tea/coffee. I've already seen two or three chains that beat Starbucks.

At the same time, Manchester has plenty of American elements. Burgers, alleged Philly cheesesteaks, and even Krispy Kreme. [In retrospect, England was the most U.S.-friendly. People on the street stopped me and asked about my accent and America. They still think of it as this golden land of opportunity. Scotland was the most hostile of the three countries. The French didn't give a shit either way]. They call Live Free or Die Hard by the name Die Hard 4.0, though.

P/V are so kind to us, driving us to and from the tram, taking us clothes shopping. They cooked us a fabulous breakfast and dinner. And now they've got us hooked on Damages, starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. We traveled 3,000 miles to watch American TV!

P/V have given us incredible spreads every day, and good conversation. Even though we don't agree on the topic of religion, we agree on a lot of things, like the importance of communication and community service on a local and global level. We value the sanctity of a romantic relationship. We really like watching Glenn Close yell at people. I don't share their Christian views, but their religion had led them to the same place I'm at: It's OK to spread your wealth around if you don't need it. It's OK to reach out.

We're at a hotel/reception hall for P/V's 40th wedding anniversary. It's beautifully British. Time to suit up.

"You all look like Bond. Some of you look like James Bond; some of you look like vagabonds." - Peter Byrne

The food was, of course, lovely - poached pear salad with nuts and goat cheese, mushrooms and veggies in gravy with bread, and tons of desserts. P/V's dance lessons paid off. Three weeks ago, Peter narrowly escaped death when a house collapsed on him [He owns and runs a construction company]. Now he's dancing with the love of his life.

I met their three children: Colin, Julie, and Nicola. They're just as wonderful. I stumble into a few uncomfortable conversations about religion politics (I'm Irish, lapsed Catholic, and American, and everyone thinks I'm Jewish. I'm in no place to get confrontational). A lot of these people strike me as conservative, but they all hate American conservatism. And they keep saying "Yeah man!" to me in a Southern accent.

Anyway, the night is great. Tons of dancing and beautiful speeches. A couple of drunks stumbled in and started a fight right at the end, but the memory I'll always hold on to is of everyone dancing around P/V during "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra. Well, that and watching Julie's young son Joe breakdance.

Went for a walk through the English countryside with Colin, Sasha, Julie, Ian, Nicola, and the kids. Spent a few hours taking in rivers and trees. Ian's dog Billy kept challenging bulls, which was hilariously terrifying.

Had another family dinner, this time with the kids. I'm so happy for Michelle. She's finally found an extended family. Sure, she's connected to her Canadian family, but this is such a huge, loving group all at once. I have that back home with both sides of my family (especially on the Ferris side. My mom is one of seven), but she's never really had so many people in one place. Michelle has officially given her heart to England. She has such an easy rapport with the Byrnes. We still have some time left here and we're already thinking about coming back.

-Ramones - Ramones Mania [For NYC]
-Banner Pilot - Pass the Poison [Nate Gangellhoff's band]
-Banner Pilot - Resignation Day
-Banner Pilot - Collapser
-The Kinks - Face to Face
-Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
-The Smiths - The Smiths
-My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything [For Ireland]
-Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted to Sin ["Welcome to England"]
-Big Business - Mind the Drift
-Nick Drake - Pink Moon
-The Kinks - Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
-The Breeders - Pod
-The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come
-The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
-Nick Drake - Bryter Layter
-The Kinks - Village Green Preservation Society
-The Slits - Cut [In honor of Ari Up, who passed away this week at 49. Do punks ever make it beyond 50?]
-The Smiths - Louder Than Bombs
-forgetters - forgetters
-Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
-The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
-The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
-David Bowie - Low
-Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
-Happy Mondays - Platinum Collection
-Wire - Pink Flag

Reading List
-Nate Gangellhoff - You Idiot: The First Book
-Craig Ferguson - American on Purpose

Record Purchases
-The Jam - The Very Best of The Jam
-Bruce Springsteen - Greatest Hits [Note: I didn't really cut loose on the record shopping until Paris. Still, I got these two CDs for wicked cheap. So, that's something.]

TOMORROW: I'm Connor and/or Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacCleod. Heading to Scotland.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant post Lad! Well done you! I'm happy you had fun in Merry England. Oh how I miss thee London :(

You are my favorite "Jewish Looking" relative, lol. I'm still jealous you have eyebrows, but I digress.

Can't wait for the next installment!

Nathan said...

You are going to enjoy the Best of the Jam.

That's not a prediction. You ARE going to enjoy it.

abdul said...

Driving lessons manchester

Yeah mine has cracked and extended warrant won't cover

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