In eating the flesh of enemies, cannibals believed they were acquiring their courage and strength of their enemies. How else to explain my final English breakfast? Not that it was a full English breakfast…but a deliberate attempt to ingest the morning meal at the retail heart of the British nation, Marks & Spencer. Specifically, the one nearest my hotel in the Edgeware Road. It was one of those tube strike days when the sidewalks look like a swarming refugee camp. I fought my way through the throngs, fondly thinking of the M&S food hall, certain I would find something along those lines in the M&S café. Wrong. Instead, I found a sort of stand, most items sold out, and a very cheerful staff clearly at loose ends until the lunch crowd arrived. True, it was an awkward breakfast hour, 10:30 AM. And what did I consume? Mostly, I consumed time, scanning all the available options, even journeying to the bakery department to see if there was something better…then back to the café to purchase a sort of sausage roll. With brown sauce, yet. Utter dreck that took years off my dietary life. Thus, goodbye to Britain.
Because the first thing I knew, it was Heathrow, specifically Costa Coffee’s Terminal 2 outlet with Jake. We did exactly the same last year when I headed for home without Jane. And for me, the experience was very much the same. Out among people, my cousin Jacob simply shines. While I headed for the men’s, Jake ordered our cappuccinos…and upon my return, he had made the full acquaintance, and acquired an expansive genealogy, of the Sikh family at the adjoining table. Jake loves India. He loves it so much that he has half convinced me to go there myself…which, I have decided, I would only do with him. And so the real goodbye to the UK was a goodbye to Jake.
And a hello to the strange world of aircraft. Three times on the way home, I had to rise from my seat in the darkened 747 cabin and pee. The seats are low…I am old…not to mention tired after my 5 AM wake-up call. So, there I was, summoning the flight attendant and repeating the same drama. I don’t like this asking for help stuff. Mentally, something inside me tries to minimize the entire experience. When what is needed is very much the opposite. Because I have to explain each time how to grab me, to raise me…and then have to shuffle through the darkened aircraft interior to the toilet.
I mention the ‘darkened’ part, because this complicates everything. With weak balance, the absence of normal light makes walking much harder. So I have to improvise…while telling my helper what to do. The problem is, I don’t know what to do myself. Hold onto a seatback? Or hold on to the flight attendant? Or use my crutch…though the latter is difficult in the narrow passages. So, while half apologetic, I am also unclear in my instructions…because the situation is unclear. However, after improvising a couple of times and confusing several flight attendants, all of us finally got the hang of it. Though I got tired of the fear of falling…in the dark. Thus, the friendly skies.
Not that one should leave out the film I happened to stumble across in my 11 available hours. Starring Adrian Brody, ‘Detachment’ was something of a find. The film came and went in 2011, not having been a favorite of critics, it seems. I found it stunning. An extremely imaginative, highly intelligent depiction of our social condition. The film focuses on the life of a high school teacher in New York City. It contains elements of Expressionism, blackboard animation…along with a magnificent script. A bit over-the-top at times, but forgivable, all of it. Something of a breakthrough, this film. Put it this way, on the long flight, nothing else would have actually held my attention.
Funny thing, travel. Especially if you consider that the inner journey is at least as important as the outer. If I ever doubted that I am a worrier, for this first day home has proved it. I was worried that I had forgotten to make a loan payment. Wrong, for a quick glance at the computer showed I had set up automatic payments. Then I was worried about driving…having been nervous enough about getting behind the wheel before I left on this trip…and surely after being gone so long, this condition would even be worse…my lack of practice only compounding things.
I drove out of our garage and headed for my bank in the Mission District. Then, having volunteered to do some shopping for Jane…did I dare, really dare, to drive the steep hill up Clipper Street to Diamond Heights? Note that in my three months in this city I have avoided this essential drive. What if I got to the top of Clipper Street…high and steep…braked for a stop, then found myself slipping backwards downhill? What indeed. I was too jetlagged to worry. I drove straight up Clipper, found out that it levels quite nicely at the top…hit San Francisco’s best Safeway, then drove home via the fastest, steepest route. Slowing drastically for the last, say, 200 meters…one of those San Francisco hill/streets in which pedestrians use steps and drivers use caution. Yes, it was scary to consider that my life hangs by a thread, that is to say, my left foot. But as threads go, it will do, I decided. Go figure.