A final round of dinners and lunches in Berkeley, stacks of oreo cookies, gallons of tea and a rainy last two days and -- we were off. Flew to Boston overnight from SF, a bleary, uncomfortable flight, with only apple juice to nourish us. Of course there was a choice of other fluids, but what I'm pointing to here is the changed circumstances in the skies above America -- the new brusque and food-free atmosphere, with all services stripped down to the dead minimum. No little baggie of goodies -- no flimsy eye-mask, no unusable knock-down toofbrush with miniature tube of chalky toofpaste, no little booties for the feet, no seat-back screens for the movies. Nope, it was back to the Jurassic era of air-travel, with those small bright monitors hanging in a row from the spine of the aircraft and 2$ headphones and no escape from the movie all night long.
In another sense, though, it was a sort of relief not to have to feel grateful for the utterly insincere "hospitality" airlines typically dish out. We ate a giant toasted sandwich just before emplaning and that was quite enough to last us the six-hour flight to Beantown. Got in to my niece's pleasant and cheerful home by around ... oooh ... 8.30? She was still there, but about to leave for work,so we said our helloooos and g'byes before ripping open all our luggage for the final pack-down before the flight out of the US. We had a breezy, enjoyable two nights and one day in Boston -- with the inevitable faint panic in the final hours, trying to decide which combination of hand- and cabin-luggage was best -- keeping in mind the ten day halt in London, E's side-trip to Helsinki, two lap-tops and ... well, you get the idea. Four months of suitcase living and accumulated bric a brac compressed into two strollies, one suitcase, one duffle-bag like a giant frankfurter stuffed with pure lead, two backpacks and one computer bag. *sigh*
The security team at the airport scolded me for being so dumb as to take my laptop out of the case (--good--) but then placing it on top of the case itself rather than in a separate bin (--bad--) and then forgetting to separate two bins (--criminally bad--) ... my stuff finally went through in five separate bins, shoes in one, heavy coat and light jacket in another, backpack in a third, computer case in a fourth and computer in the fifth. Ah well. At least I got through without being strip-searched. Which reminds me --in San Francisco I got random-screened with their new sniffer machines. I went through a separate channel and stood in a small glass chamber and several jets of air suddenly PAFFED around me -- painless but a bit startling -- after which I was released. *shrug* Whatever.
LONDON! Ah, London -- but a pause here before I go on to sing the praises of VIRGIN ATLANTIC. All ye travellers out there, poised to buy your tickets for destinations diverse, hear this and make your adjustments: VA is the best. It all comes down to seating. Any airline can offer duplex apartments to their first class passengers -- but it's the quality of the economy seats that defines a classy flight. And VA delivers. We were comfortable and cramp-free, breathed easy and felt well-loved. The food was pleasant and the movies were inexhaustible -- I'd have gone blind if I'd watched them all. Of the two I saw, one was perfect airline fare -- light but well-acted -- Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins -- set against the backdrop of the London Blitz and with naked beauties in the foreground. MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS -- go see it if you can -- if nothing else, to enjoy the surprising and refreshing lack of prudery about bare flesh. I don't know how VA gets away with it, or whether there's been a sudden loosening of moral corsets in the air (perhaps to offset the repressions on earth?) but at least two movies on this flight featured full frontal nudity -- just brief glimpses, to be sure, no lingering, no close-ups -- male and female, with neither any twinkling pixellation nor any steam-of-porn. It was Just Bits o' Bare Skin. And rather nice bits too. Anyway, so you get the idea, FLY VIRGIN. And no, I've not been paid to say this. I really and truthfully had a good flight.
My stays in London are always pleasant on account of being warmly and lovingly enfolded in the bosom of my family. This time is no different. I am always indulged to the hilt and eat too much and feel nostalgic for England's gigantic coins -- "small change" indeed, huh! -- can't be sure why nostalgic, exactly -- there must be some reason, but I can't hunt it down right now. Too sleepy.
Before I pip off for the moment, two excellent movies to report. I saw both in the US, but feel they both need wider exposure. They're both documentaries and since I'm not entirely compos mentis at the moment, I'll just make a dab at the title of the first one: "THE REAL DIRT about Farmer John" (I'll come back laterand correct it, if I need to) -- and you can find out more about it at: The Real Dirt. The second one's called "RIVERS AND TIDES" and is about the British artist Andy Goldsworthy.
THE REAL DIRT is the true story of John Peterson, who grew up on a farm and loved the land and during the sixties allowed his farm to become a place where agriculture and rock music came together to make a moment of art and beauty and craziness, then almost had to give everything up until finally returning once more to the land, to collective agriculture, to organic crops and people and soil and growing plants and the land, the land, the glorious land. It is a marvellous, witty, cleverly made and strangely moving story with a powerful message: FOLLOW YOUR DREAM. Just do it. Even if it sometimes results in running around wearing bee-costumes and singing funny songs with your girlfriend, in a corn field ...
RIVERS AND TIDES is inspiring and beautiful in an entirely different way. You can google Andy Goldsworthy's name to see his work, but the film is powerful because you can see him PRODUCE his work -- out of random bits of icicle, out of shards of rock, out of simple dandelions, out of sunlight, water, time and his love for the materials he works with. His work is often ephemeral: he might scratch a pattern onto the surfaces of a line of fresh green leaves, place them on a rock in order so that the pattern links up and becomes a jagged line, then watch them as the wind ruffles through his art and blows it all away. He might build a structure out of twigs, big enough to be a nest for a man-sized bird, then watch with an expression of tolerant amusement as the incoming tide swirls it all away.
By making art which doesn't last, it seems to me that he cuts deep towards the heart of what makes a thing a piece of art -- it remains ultimately indescribable of course -- but the pleasure he gets, which becomes visible in the simplicity and beauty of his creations, is surely what it's all about. The sense of doing something because it MUST be done -- not because of deadlines or being immortalized in stone or earning a living or putting food on the table -- yet also involving all of that, since he has four small children, and as for deadlines, even if he didn't have commissions of work to fulfil (which he does, as one of Britain's highly acclaimed contemporary artists), he has the tides and seasons to contend with -- the sense of being caught in a tide of his own art as surely as the leaves he places so reverently on the water ... THAT is powerful and inspirational.