(Last modified 4 June 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 40

Locations: London; Somerville; Boston
Dates: 5/18/97 - 5/24/97

Sunday morning I lazed around the hotel -- was tired and didn't really feel up to a day out wandering the city. Updated my journal. Tried to contact a friend who I know is in the UK but don't know anything more specific about his location; I'd been meaning to contact him since well before I left, but kept not doing so. Tried calling information on the off chance that he lived in London, but there were far too many people with his last name and first initial. So I gave up on that idea.

Intended to meet Michael at the cheap-tickets booth in Leicester Square at noon, but didn't manage to get out of the hotel 'til nearly 1, at which point I realized I hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch. I wanted to try eating someplace ineffably British, getting food I couldn't get in the US, but wasn't satisfied with anything in the immediate area so figured I'd take the tube to Piccadilly Circus and find some food there. When the train stopped at Marylebone, I remembered I'd wanted to look around that neighborhood, so I got off and tried to find food there. A half dozen restaurants, all either closed or really expensive. I walked on toward Baker Street and eventually settled on an Italian chain restaurant with good food and (surprise surprise) lousy service. Looked in the window of the Sherlock Holmes memorabilia store just down the block while I ate some Baskin Robbins ice cream. Checked my map, decided not to visit the Holmes museum or the Museum of Mankind, both nearby, and got back on the tube to Piccadilly Circus.

Wandered into HMV music store, found some fairly cheap CDs that I suspect I wouldn't be able to find in the US. Spent a while wandering through the adjacent Pepsi Trocadero center, "the theme park of the future" -- shops, Emagination (group VR rides a la Star Tours), Sega World, and a mini-arcade of Virtua Glider systems, Evans & Sutherland's VR hang-glider game. I watched on the display monitors for a while, enjoying their texture maps and critiquing their interface (if the player is just going to bounce off the river, you shouldn't let them hit it), but wasn't quite willing to pay 2 pounds to try it out.

Continued toward Charing Cross Road. Outside the Swiss Centre (where a little later the automated glockenspiel played saccharine electronic-sounding versions of "Greensleeves" and "Yesterday"), I stopped to watch three young folks juggling; tried to figure out what they were there for, since they obviously weren't performing for the crowd but had more and better equipment than I'd expect random jugglers out practicing to have. They were clearly having a great deal of fun, throwing unlit torches (and, briefly, knives) at each other in a dizzying cascade. They were definitely better than I am, but clearly not at the top-notch professional level either; just enough better than me that I could imagine doing what they were doing and appreciate the skill and sense of fun involved. Eventually they stopped and two of them sat and watched while the third (an Australian young man in cow-spotted pants, vest, hat, and hair) did a fairly standard/boring busking performance for the crowd -- spent far more time making fun of the audience and pretending to not be able to do various stunts than actually juggling.

Passed a little time in a bookstore, then met the others at the pre-assigned meeting spot on Charing Cross Road. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel by way of Kensington Garden. Spent a little time at the Speakers' Corner, where various impassioned folk were holding forth on a variety of topics: mostly religion (mostly Islam), race, and sex. Kinda fun to watch, especially one group in which the hecklers and the speechifier all seemed to be having a great time making fun of each other, with no evidence of ill-will or antagonism on anyone's part.

In the morning we finished packing, mailed some postcards, and set off for Gatwick. Encountered various hassles at the airport -- was told my carryon was over the weight limit, for instance, and had to do some quick repacking of luggage in the middle of the airport...

Spent much of the flight chatting and reading/editing our screenplay. Also watched a movie on the tiny back-of-seat color-LCD movie screen. After an uneventful flight, and a very long time waiting for luggage at baggage claim, we met Steve at Logan airport. Fran and Ed and Chris hopped on the T, and Steve took Michael and me back to Somerville.

Tuesday called Arthur to talk about screenplay. Went over my comments for almost the entire thing, in an over-long phone call. Spent the evening at Carrie and Ingrid's new place, and stayed there that night.

Wednesday got things straightened out with the investment fund that didn't want to let me retrieve my money. They decided to allow me to show them my passport as a valid form of ID.

In the evening, Kir and her friend Crystal suddenly showed up. They and Steve & Bhadrika & kids and I wandered over to Harvard Square to look at roleplaying books and kids' books, and to have dinner at a Mexican pub-type place called Borders (not to be confused with the bookstore/coffeeshop chain). Good food, good service, good company, and very very noisy.

Thursday had lunch with Harlan and Chris F, a tech writer working with Harlan who wanted some advice on tech writing. Shortly after I got back to Somerville, Sarah called and asked if I could give her and her new cat a ride to the vet, in South Boston. I assented, thinking it would be no more than a half-hour drive each way. Little did we know. Two and a half hours later, we got to the vet's office just before they closed. Most of that time was spent on 93 South going no more than 5 or 6 miles in stop-and-go traffic that never exceeded 10 mph. Would normally have been nightmarish, but for some reason I was in fairly good spirits. The return trip took under half an hour... Spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Carrie and her friend Lara; we had a nice Thai dinner and saw a movie.

Friday, I spent the day trying to catch up on email. Got through about a hundred messages from my inbox, leaving only about 800 to go. In the evening, Sarah bought me dinner to thank me for the vet trip.

Saturday morning I got to talk with Bhadrika for a while -- even though I've been staying at her house, I haven't had much chance to have real conversations with her. Was nice. I had lunch with Beth, then wandered near Harvard Square for a bit and went to help Beth look at a car she's considering buying. Afterward, attended a movie at the recently renovated Somerville Theatre. Went over to Carrie's that night and stayed up well into Sunday.


Movies, Books, etc.

101 Dalmatians
Glad I saw this on a 3" screen (on the plane) when I didn't have anything better to do; otherwise I'd have been disappointed that most of the movie consists of (a) barking dogs, and (b) various humans being hurled through the air. Glenn Close is fine as Cruella De Vil, and Hugh Laurie is delightful as one of her bumbling lackeys, but the rest of the movie would've benefited greatly from the Babe treatment; the non-human characters would've been far more interesting if they could talk.

Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Fairly typical Dahl kids' fare, which is to say slightly surreal situations involving precocious kids suffering under the misrule of malign and/or ignorant adults; but entertaining nonetheless, and unexpectedly tidy. I'm curious to see what the movie's like...

Watership Down
The animation is every bit as good as I thought it was when I first saw this, when it came out; it's not as scary or as intense as it was when I was a kid, but that's to be expected. Quite good, and definitely not a kiddie movie.

Chasing Amy
Okay: the lead actress' voice is really really grating, and I have certain political problems with some of the characters and how they're represented, and some of the characters are too naive to live. But: this movie was made for people like me -- despite its flaws, I loved it, and laughed at an awful lot of it, and highly highly recommend it to folks in their twenties and thirties whose romantic lives aren't as straightforward as the fairy tales we were always told would've had us expect. (Note: I haven't seen either of the director's previous movies, so it's not like I was a fan going into it; in fact, I didn't even expect to like it much.)


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>