Friday, April 18, 2014

Rolling in Petals at the End of the World

Olga was literally "in the pink" yesterday at the park. The cherry trees are dropping their blossoms and she had a great time rolling around in them.

My own recent "in the pink" experience -- my sunburn -- has faded. It was never very severe and not at all painful; I had no peeling and certainly no blisters. Knock on wood, I've never been sunburned badly enough to blister.

Apparently it's Easter weekend! Who knew?! Today and Monday are bank holidays in the U.K., so everything is closed. Just one more reason to hang out and take things slow before school resumes on Tuesday.

On a heavier note, I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine yesterday about a longtime environmental activist who says we humans have to stop deluding ourselves that we can stop or slow our current ecological crisis. He no longer believes we can turn the tide on global warming or mass extinctions. What we have to do now, he believes, is learn to live with what we've created:

“What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad?”

It's a fascinating article, and perhaps it resonated with me because of my basic cynicism about the future of the planet. Other environmentalists criticize this guy's approach, saying he's given up -- but he says the only hope he has abandoned is false hope. Sounds reasonable to me. Maybe I'm a "crazy collapsitarian."

There is still beauty, though. Look at that dog! Look at those petals!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Olga arrived home last night, and promptly did what she always does when she comes home from the kennel -- ate a big bowl of food and fell fast asleep. We always joke that they must not feed her there! I suspect that when she's away from home she neither eats nor sleeps completely normally, being in a less familiar environment.

While Olga came back safe and sound, her trademark pink harness did not. Apparently it got filthy on one of her walks (easy to imagine), the kennel staff removed it, and it somehow got thrown away. That's the story, anyway. The guy who brought her home offered to pay for it, but we'd already intended to get her a new one, so I told him not to worry about it. I can walk her for now using her collar, but I do think she probably needs a harness -- she's been known to wiggle out of that collar in moments of great excitement ("Cat! CAT!") and I wouldn't want her streaking away from me and into London traffic.

As for me, I stayed awake all day yesterday, despite having slept only about 20 minutes on our flights. (I can't sleep on airplanes, and I've never understood how anyone can -- though I can see how it might be easier for people who aren't 6'2.) I did laundry, which I have been looking forward to for days. I hate carrying around a bag full of clothes steeped in salt water, sweat and sunblock.

Dave made boeuf bourguignon, and we watched some Star Trek.

Someone asked about the beach glass -- here's the only piece I kept, the sloped and cracked neck of a bottle. All the glass I found was basic green or brown bottle glass, in varying shades, and I left most of it behind on the beach, piled beneath a tree for whoever wants it. I really try to bring back a minimum of stuff whenever I travel. I don't want to load up the house with souvenirs.

I kept these shells, too. They're just like shells I would have bought as a kid in those baskets of assorted shells from cheap Florida gift shops -- like Stuckey's, maybe -- and so different from shells we'd find on any beach in the Sunshine State. They seem exotic, even now.

Today means more laundry, and catching up in blogland and finishing the book I'm now reading, "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier (who, by the way, is not a man). Olga and I will probably also renew our acquaintance with the park.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back Home Again

I am back in London, where the WiFi is blessedly fast. Woo hoo! Our flights back home were uneventful -- we passed through Abu Dhabi once again, and this time we made our connection. It made for a long day of flying (about 12 hours) but we endured.

Yesterday Dave and I sat on the patio at our hotel in the Seychelles and talked about how, for the most part, we had been spared rain. Almost as soon as we said it a series of little rainstorms developed around us, including this one across the bay. We still only got spattered with a few drops.

I felt a bit stir-crazy just sitting around all day waiting for our 5:30 p.m. taxi, so while Dave read I took a walk to a neighboring beach. I found four or five little shells (devoid of hermit crabs, I swear) and some beach glass. Isn't it funny how a beach can take a broken bottle, wear away the sharp edges and turn it into something desirable?

Dave and I also spent part of yesterday talking about the things that most surprised us about the Seychelles. One is the complete absence of sea gulls, at least from what we saw. Have you ever seen a beach environment with no sea gulls? Instead they have long-tailed tropicbirds (left), the closest thing I could find to a gull. Much more elegant, and better behaved, too.

I was also surprised by the predominance of French. I expected the Seychellois people to speak English, the Seychelles having been an English colony for more than 100 years. But the earliest settlers were French, and the French influence never waned.

Olga comes home this afternoon, and then it's back to our London routines!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Big City, and a Mild Burn

Today we went to Victoria, the bustling capital of Seychelles. I say that only slightly jokingly, because despite its small size, it really is busy with cars and people. It took me a good five minutes to get that photo above, waiting for a break in the traffic.

Victoria is located on the other side of the island of Mahé from where we're staying, at Anse Soleil. Getting over there is an adventure, as we have to traverse a mountain range! We hired a taxi for the day and saw some spectacular scenery from the mountain peaks, as well as the ruins of an old Capucin Mission created in the mid-1800s to educate the children of freed slaves.

We had a creole lunch at a restaurant called Marie Antoinette, toured the local market (full of fish and mysterious produce) and visited the somewhat dusty little Natural History Museum.

Have I mentioned that it is freaking HOT here? If I have one complaint about our hotel, it's that it is a long way from everything. Even walking out to the main road, to the small settlement of Baie Lazare, means an arduous journey up and down some steep hills. I've done it twice now, including yesterday, when I photographed this colorful little building that houses the library and a crafts center.

Dave likes the remoteness. He's definitely getting his wish for a place where there is little to do but relax. I think I like a bit more connectedness, but if I'm willing to sweat it out I can explore a bit.

Of course, there's also the water, a cooler recreational option. Here's one of those aforementioned crabs, hanging on for dear life amid the onslaught of a crashing wave. I went snorkeling yesterday morning and had another miraculous aquarium-swimming experience, though it was tempered by a touch of sunburn. I am so careful about sunblock, and I even wore a shirt -- but I did not count on the elastic in my swimsuit going a bit slack so that the suit rode down, exposing what might be politely called my lower lower back to the sun. I now have a two-inch strip of sunburn that looks, from behind, like a pink belt. (Does anyone else have itchy sunburn? It doesn't hurt. It just itches like crazy.)

Here's one of those fruit bats I mentioned. They are very large. They look like circling buzzards. Apparently some restaurants serve them, and Dave kept talking about trying one, but I argued against it for ecological reasons. (There seem to be a ton of them, so I'm not sure my concerns are sound. Eating a bat just feels wrong.)

Finally, here's a little shop I found with the amusing name of G. Fock Yune. (There's also an R. Fock Yune a little bit down the road -- a relative, according to our taxi driver.)

We are headed back to London tomorrow. I'll re-enter the blog world more fully once we get home!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From the Seychelles, Live!

Believe it or not, we have arrived at a hotel with WiFi. At least, some semblance of WiFi. If I told you how long it took to load these pictures we could debate whether I am truly connected or not -- but they did get there, eventually.

The Seychelles are almost absurdly beautiful. They're like everyone's stereotypical idea of a tropical paradise, with turquoise water, colorful birds, copious sunshine broken by brief, refreshing rainstorms, exotic flowers and plants and plentiful relaxation. Nothing in the Seychelles happens quickly, as any Seychellois person will tell you.

Getting here turned out to be a challenge. Our flight left late from London, so by the time we arrived in Abu Dhabi we'd missed our connection. The airline put us up in a hotel (for a few hours, because by this time it was the middle of the night) and when we set out to find some food, all we could come up with was...

…McDonald's. But I must say, that was a darn good Big Mac. It's all about the special sauce, isn't it?

The next morning we were on the first flight out, and our arrival in the Seychelles went smoothly. We landed on Mahé, which is the main island, and got a brief tour of the capital, Victoria (which seems to be about eight square blocks) courtesy of our taxi driver. He then took us to the jetty for the ferry to Praslin, the location of our first hotel.

Praslin is a quieter island, with idyllic beaches like Anse Lazio, where the thatched lifeguard stand provided a place for some local romance. (The lifeguard himself is on the right, and he did seem to be paying attention.)

The wildlife is amazing. This orange bird is a Madagascar fody, and they're very common, flitting around in their bright breeding plumage. I think the little brown bird in front may be the female. Only the males turn orange, apparently.

We've seen lots of other amazing birds, and huge fruit bats that circle through the skies in afternoon and evening. We snorkeled on a reef, and yes, it was like an aquarium, to use a tired but truthful analogy.

And of course, we've seen lots of giant tortoises. Literally dozens of them. They love having their necks scratched.

Yesterday Dave and I went to the Valle de Mai, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of the Coco de Mer palm. These palms only grow in the Seychelles, mainly on Praslin, and they live an incredibly long time for a tropical tree -- something like 800 years. They're best known for their curvy and suggestive seeds, which weigh several kilos and are the largest in the plant kingdom.

Our guide at the Valle de Mai introduced himself as Sean, "just like Sean Connery -- but I can't act."

Dave quipped, "Well, you look just like him."

We've seen lots of geckos and lizards, too. And crabs! This place is simply crawling with crabs. The good kind.

We left Praslin yesterday and came back to Mahé, where we will spend the rest of our trip, being forced to witness sunsets like these:

Yes, they really look like that. Virtually every night.

Oh, and there's going to be a lot of this going on.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back to Thamesmead

When we were in South London on Saturday, our bus swept past this stop. I was sitting on the upper deck and I had the surreal sensation of being enveloped in a pink cloud. I saw the dirt pile out the window, the bleak industrial landscape, and imagined how the bus stop must look, with that lone pink tree standing sentinel.

I could not get that image out of my head.

So yesterday, after I took Olga to the park and as I prepared to run errands to get ready for our departure for the Seychelles today, I decided I had to go back to South London and get a picture of that tree, that bus stop. It haunted me. And I couldn't wait, because the tree would stop blooming soon -- it was now or never.

So that was my afternoon yesterday -- a tube ride, another tube ride and then a bus ride back to North Greenwich, and I am so happy with the results. I love that picture. I didn't count on the beautiful, windswept shape of the tree, which makes it all the better.

As long as I was down there, I thought I'd go on to Thamesmead, as was my original plan on Saturday. So I did, getting off the bus and wandering through a landscape of urban Brutalist architecture interspersed with big, grassy park spaces.

No one ever told me there would be horses wandering around Thamesmead. But there are. That was a surprise.

I didn't try to find specific movie locations for either "A Clockwork Orange" or "Beautiful Thing," both of which were filmed here. But I got a general sense of the settings, seeing the buildings up close and wandering through their maze-like courtyards, labyrinthine outdoor corridors and forbidding ground-level car parks.

I actually like the architecture, though the buildings are showing their age.

This morning Dave and I have to pack and get ourselves out of here. The dog is already at her boarding quarters. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to blog from the Seychelles but I'll try. If not, I'll catch you up when we return in about a week!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

South London Lunch

Yesterday we went down to South London to meet Sally and Mike for lunch. We invited along Anna, one of Dave's coworkers from the music department, and her husband Lawrence, who funnily enough just bought a house a few doors away from Sally and Mike. We figured they should all meet!

We had a good pub lunch and then made our way to Anna and Loz's house, where we saw all their planned improvements.

I admire anyone who enters the real estate market here in London and emerges unscathed with a proper house. Dave and I have talked about trying to buy, but it seems like a much scarier process than it is in the states. For example, one can make an offer on a house and have it accepted by the buyer, and still lose the house to another purchaser who offers a higher price at any point before closing. Besides, property prices here are insane, and getting more insane all the time.

Anyway, my original plan had been to leave lunch and go to Thamesmead, a '60s planned community along the river, to do some photography. Almost from its inception Thamesmead was considered a forbidding environment, representative of all the bleakness that a London council estate can embody. Parts of "A Clockwork Orange" were filmed there, for example.

But we didn't leave Anna's until 5 p.m., so I ditched that idea. Instead we walked to the top of a hill at an old quarry near their house in Charlton, from which we had expansive views over Canary Wharf (above) and the Thames Barrier (top).

Another resident of the street where Sally, Mike, Anna and Loz live is Herbie the Love Bug -- or at least his blue cousin.

I may try my Thamesmead outing again today, though with all we have to do before our trip tomorrow, it would probably make more sense to stay home.