Friday, 21 December 2007

Perfect to Stay

I said I love time, but never ever this long
Sooner or later I'll be perfect to stay

ON Thursday, December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty - American patriots and/or antiestablishmentarianists - reacted to the Tea Act, newly introduced by the British government, by emptying casks of tea from the Dartmouth into Boston harbour. The event, the Boston Tea Party, is often seen as a spark of the American Revolution, in which America rid its hands of those pesky Brits. A small sample of that tea actually still remains. Rescued and preserved it is now displayed in the Old State House museum in the centre of Boston.

Boston then, the final stop of the grand old tour of the world. A trip which I hadn't truly appreciated until I stood inside the Mapparium, a 30ft diameter walk-in globe, a three-dimensional map of the world as it was in 1935 composed of 608 stained glass panels. Situated in the Mary Baker Eddy library, adjacent to the First Church of Christ, Scientist (a concept I simply do not have time to explain), it was illuminating for two reasons. First, it is surprising quite how the politics of the world have changed in just 72 years. Countries were marked that have not existed in my lifetime; the power of the Soviet Union suddenly made sense seeing quite how large it really was; colonies were still in abundance. Second, it highlighted just how far I have gone in just four months. No wonder my mother was worried!

When we arrived in Boston it was under a foot of snow. When we leave tomorrow evening, it will probably still be under a foot of snow. Rarely has the temperature been above freezing. Rarely in this trip have I needed to wear so many layers. And now apparently it is Christmas, another fact I am having difficulty coming to terms with. For me winter began last week when I flew into the northern hemisphere for the first time since Singapore.

Boston is my favourite of our stops in the USA. It is pretty and interesting, less busy but more cultural than our previous stops of Washington DC and New York. Granted it is not the cleanest of places, and seems to have more than its fair share of insane people (I jest not), but it is a pleasant, friendly and agreeable place. It is also the intellectual corner of New England - yesterday we visited M.I.T and Harvard, though we got lost around Harvard, proving that we would not necessarily be cut out for this respected educational establishment.

Now, finally, it is time to come home, and about time too. Everything I have seen along the way has been an amazing experience, for I have seen and learnt things I shall never forget and I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to do so. But four months is too long to be away. I miss my family, my friends, my bed, beans on toast, English houses, tea, proper milk, pubs, the way the grass grows (for it truly is unique in Britain), proper money, proper food and a good old familiar routine. Most of all I miss Rachel, who has been patiently waiting for me to come home and to get the travelling bug out of my system. I'm afraid I haven't, so I'll just have to take her with me next time.

Thank you for reading the stories I have been able to tell while I have been away. There are so many more that I have not had time to share, which you will all inevitably hear with time, but don't expect to hear from me until after the new year, because straight after Christmas I'll be leaving on a jet plane...

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A Is For Parrot, Which We Can Plainly See

Empire State Building (Honest)

IT started snowing as we walked through Times Square.

Then it started raining. The Statue of Liberty: shrouded in fog. The Empire State Building: shrouded in fog. Brooklyn Bridge: shrouded in fog. The Naked Cowboy: indoors keeping himself warm in these frozen times. December is not, it would seem, the best time of the year to go sightseeing in New York.

That doesn't mean you can't have a good look around. This morning we headed to South Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, but prevented from doing so by the weather we went inland, to Wall Street and the financial district, and then up to City Hall and Ground Zero. Seeking refuge from the cold briefly in a department store (don't ask me which one, I'm a boy) we then went back up to Times Square for lunch and some exciting shopping opportunities (yes, even for boys) and then to the Empire State Building ("Today's Visibility: 0 Miles - Tickets $19"), before catching the train to Central Park to watch squirrels and to squelch in the snow. All the while I dreamt of cheesecake and a nice warm fire.

When our bus pulled into New York yesterday I was worried. I like big, busy cities - I find them exciting - but seeing the skyline of New York approach slowly I couldn't help but think I was out of my depth. This place is so much bigger than anywhere I have been before. Times Square on our first night (a Saturday night no less) was absolutely heaving. The metro was packed. It was all very different to the islands of Fiji, one of which you could walk around in four and a half minutes (Jeannette timed it).

But I've warmed (in spirit at least) to the place. It's quite exciting really, since anything of any importance tends to happen here. The Big Apple is the quintessential home of the American spirit, which makes the fact that the highlight of my day was the presence of an Englishman all the stranger.

That man would be John Lennon. In Central Park, in the Strawberry Fields section, is an 'Imagine' memorial to the singer. In the Hard Rock Cafe a board with his handwritten 'story', a scattergram alphabet in which A is for Parrot and N is for Brazil, because it is close to Venezuela. Surreal and probably nonsense, but a valuable item to have on the wall. Whether you buy into his legend or not, the memorial is an affecting place, with no image or statue, but just the word 'Imagine' and a symbol for peace.

This is my story both humble and true,
tear it to pieces and mend it with glue.

Tomorrow morning my first visit to New York City comes to an end, as I shall be catching a bus to Boston. Boston, I am told, is even colder. I can't wait to return to British weather!

From A is for Parrot (again) (March 2008)

"A is for Parrot", originally uploaded by SBishop.

The subject of a previous post, I finally got around to publishing a photo of John Lennon's poetry in the Hard Rock Cafe, New York.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Fifty Nifty United States

I HAVE spent the last three days in the capital of the U S of A, Washington DC.

I mostly spent the first two days in bed.

You see the trouble is, Fiji is twelve hours ahead of the UK, and twenty ahead of Los Angeles. Our flight from Nadi, due to depart at 10.55pm Fiji time was delayed by four hours, thus we took off in what was, to me, the early hours of the following morning. I slept throughout takeoff, but after a small snack and a film I suddenly ceased to be tired, and so for most of the nine and a half hour flight I remained awake. Breakfast followed at Fijian breakfast time, which was now, to put the ensuing problems into perspective, three o'clock in the afternoon Los Angeles time, the previous day. So we took off on the 12th of December, only to land late afternoon on the 11th, the other side of the Pacific, having just had breakfast. Then, four hours later, we were in the air again, flying to Washington DC, three hours further ahead, landing three hours after taking off from Nadi, eighteen hours previously. By the time we regained consciousness in the city, having slept since arrival, it had been twenty four hours since we had eaten and it was still the 12th of December.

I'm not entirely sure my body has yet adjusted, but after two days of laziness it was time to see the city. Between the periods of narcolepsy all we had achieved so far was to see the White House, a shopping mall and a man singing to himself in Italian, so our third and final day needed to be action packed. So today we went on a whistlestop tour of one of the coolest museums on the planet (but I shan't say what it is just yet) and the National Mall, stopping off at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, before rapidly making our way back to our accommodation to escape the freezing cold.

Gone are the flip-flops of Fiji, in come the woolly hats and gloves for America. I may even keep the beard for added insulation.

Friday, 14 December 2007

If You Pick A Raw Paw

THERE I was, all ready to write something original and interesting about a side of Fiji you had probably never thought existed, something clever and important about poverty in paradise, with the added spice of political unrest. But then the hurricane came along and changed everything.

I had thought it was getting a bit windy. I'd been down on the beach, swinging in a hammock and reading my book when suddenly it started raining and getting a bit blowy. No matter, it was nearly lunchtime anyway.

But at lunch we received some quite startling news. Predictions came in that a cyclone, the worst for ten years, was on its way to Fiji. Not just Fiji but the Yasawa Islands where I happened to be. It would hit in about 12 hours.

Now in my head a true melodrama erupted. After all, a hurricane is not a concept familiar to the English. You see them on television, but you certainly don't get them in Lyme Bay. Where would I have to hide? Would the buildings be safe? What if the toilet cubicle flew away at the worst possible moment?

The villagers put us at ease. They did not seem to be concerned at all - but to reassure me they advised me that the hut where I was staying was the safest of the lot (concrete huts will fall to pieces, wooden huts like mine stay composed and tip rather than collapse). Indeed the villagers found it almost comical that we tourists were concerned at all, finding it incredulous that we had no concept of a cyclone.

So we sat and waited. In the evening we played cards, for if it was going to happen, we might as well be having fun.

And goodness, what a quiet hurricane. I slept straight through it all! In fact, the only thing that woke me up were my drunk room mates who returned to the hut at 2am and began re-enacting Big Brother scenes and singing songs.

Of course, you will realise that the cyclone did not hit that evening. In the calm of the following morning, in which the rain and wind ceased and the sun came out, we thought we had avoided it. So much so, we spent the morning walking through the jungle to coconut groves and doing handstands on the beach. However, it was still headed our way, getting stronger (now a category 4), and now due to hit Waya Lailai at approximately midnight that night. As the sun went down, the sky turned an apocalyptic red, bats flying high up above, all other wildlife silent. This was the calm before the storm.

Cyclone Daman hit Fiji that night. Cikobia island was the worst affected - homes were destroyed, freshwater supplies contaminated and widespread flooding problems continued for days. It was not a trivial storm.

Fortunately for us, the cyclone hit northern Fiji and unexpectedly turned East, petering out over the Pacific, and not the Yasawa group. We were very lucky indeed.