July 22, 2013

Oxford grays.

“I saw the spires of Oxford
As I was passing by,
The gray spires of Oxford
Against a pearl-gray sky.”

~Winifred Mary Letts

On a rare summer afternoon, when the sun falls lovingly on storied spires, Oxford takes on a regal hue-a gold as rich as memory.  But it is not in such a light that the university is remembered by the legions of poets who have trod its manicured quads.  They almost all chose another hue, a gray that pays homage to silvered spires, medieval stones, a favorite author’s hair?, and the venerability of a seven-hundred-plus-year-old bastion of learning.

DI Robert Lewis: Life born of fire. I bet that means something in Latin.  
DS James Hathaway: What makes you say that? 
DI Robert Lewis: This is Oxford. Everything always means something in Latin.

Oxford is not a college town — it is the college town. Its namesake university’s 38 colleges are so steeped in scholarly history they make Harvard and Yale seem like baby-faced freshmen. To wit: Oxford’s New College was last considered “new” in the 14th century. Even the obsolete term “New World” is newer.
To underline this point, the city contains the famous Bodleian library, the research library of Oxford University, whose present buildings can be traced back to 1602.

DI Robert Lewis: Have you learned nothing from this case? Books are bad for your health.
DS James Hathaway: Not if you just read them.

The famous Library was well endowed with grotesques and gargoyles, but they were crumbling badly. In 2009, nine new gargoyles were unveiled.  A contest was held for school children to design new gargoyles around the theme of myths, monsters or people that had a historical connection with Oxfordshire during the last millennium.

Once the designs were chosen it took over two years to complete the carvings by local sculptors, and the children had a hand in crafting the final product. Be sure to watch for them when you visit and keep you looking up at the symbols, emblems, motifs, animals, and demons clinging to the roofs and walls of Oxford buildings. The stonemasons, both medieval and modern, used their imaginations and humor in creating hundreds of amazing stone carvings. Bring your binoculars.

The number of famous people that have studied and done research at Oxford University, is as you might imagine an extremely long list that includes J R Tolkein (author of The Lord of the Rings) and of more recent relevance, Tim Berners-Lee who is credited for inventing the Internet…imagine that on your CV!

DS James Hathaway: You know what one of the Inklings is meant to have said when Tolkien started reading them 'Lord of the Rings'?
DI Robert Lewis: Oh, spare me, Sergeant; I've had enough of imaginary worlds.
DS James Hathaway: You'll like it, sir; I promise.
DI Robert Lewis: Go on then.
DS James Hathaway: They said: "Not more flipping elves!" Except they didn't say 'flipping'.
DI Robert Lewis: [laughs] I like it...

Personally, I love to ‘tour’ the city and its hidden gardens, picturesque gates, and its old and new architecture.

DS James Hathaway: Well, Caesar was killed by a group of conspirators; gota check Brutus, Cassius, Casca...
DI Robert Lewis: This is Oxford, not ancient Rome.
DS James Hathaway: They're easily confused, sir.

A long time Oxford resident, Colin Dexter has the curious distinction of having made his home city one of the fictional murder capitals of the UK. He has slaughtered more than 80 people in his Inspector Morse stories, turning the dreaming spires of Oxford into a kind of academic killing fields. Tourist buses regularly bring Morse fans on a guided tour of the locations of his stabbings, stranglings and poisonings.

DI Robert Lewis: [Over the phone] I'm not stirring on Sunday for anything less than murder.

On to new Endeavour(s) 

July 13, 2013

Who is going to drive you today?

“Took me three years,” said John. “Only three or four years ago. Before that I worked for my dad.” We approach Shepherd’s Bush, go round the roundabout with the white and blue water tower. “I couldn’t get decent work. The pay’s not great doing this, but the freedom’s all right.” I say the hours must be good; you can work when you want to. “But I never see my wife. I’m always out in the nights, ’cos the fares are much better. The days, I prefer. Better when you get a long fare.”  I’m coming from Heathrow to town. “It’s easier at night. Less bloody idiots.”  A minute later, two schoolgirls run blind across the road, shrieking with laughter. “Apart from them, mind,” he shouts, shoving his hand on the horn. “Watch yourselves, ladies!” And he shrugs. “But what can you say? We’re all young once.”

What’s your favorite thing about London?

“It changes by the week. It used to be Whitehall, down there. I like Smithfields right now. Not much fare up there, though. You’ve got to keep that in mind.  Waterloo Bridge, you see everything – Westminster at night, all the City, Canary Wharf at the north side.  Albert Bridge lit up like a fairy. And it’s on the way home.  The passengers who chat to you like you’re a proper human being. Thank you for that, love.”

You're welcome. 

(See Sherlock, you should have paid closer attention.)

July 09, 2013

While the going was good.

I was warned, and I knew that starting July 1 all travel would explode with screaming children and overall airport hell.

I hate modern holiday travel and decided to stay the summer in the flames of Los Angeles not moving ‘till the beginning of September — when everyone else has returned in a heap at home.

Summer travel is hot and tough and you have to be in fighting shape to withstand it. The endless security lines, the highway back-ups, the screwed-up restaurant reservations... Even if you already have a chic summer rental in Provence or in East Hampton, or a yacht in St. Tropez, or a suite on the Seaborne, nothing can make me want to withstand the rigors of just getting there! Except ...a complete disconnect-a retreat.  A fast from food, people, media and technology.

I am not talking about a destination spa vacation (too much of a commitment) or a weekend ‘get away.’ The latter reeks of Vegas, booze, strippers and Cirque de Soleil. I realized that nobody ever returns from a summer jaunt feeling refreshed or revitalized. Who can honestly say that after a trip that includes standing at any baggage claim carousel?

Airports are notorious for being unpleasant. But there are a few that stand-out in my mind. The arrival hall at Calgary International Airport is one.  Both fun and educational.

I am a pill when it comes to travel as you can see. I only desire an absolute ‘Stop the World I Want to Get Off’ moment, or nothing. I say: to be constantly everywhere is to be nowhere ... and exhausted.

So, where do I go?  The Central California Coast between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I can get to Carpinteria in the blink of an eye and it always feels vintage California and very ‘under the radar.’  And yes, I don't run into any bling and glitz.

The days vanish in a blur of reading, hiking and most of all sleeping to the sound of the ocean which is better than Ambien. That hypnotic thunderous sound of waves took me in and under, and frankly I don't remember much of anything.  Imagine having such a front row seat to nature without a single wail from a distant toddler. I can hear and smell the waves at all times. The ocean becomes a backdrop. The smell of iodine, seaweed and eucalyptus is like no other and heals me instantly. The sound is nature's original white noise. 

In spite of the fact that I stopped all calls and the laptop remained unpacked I found out all the news fit to print or stream through a few neighborhood market excursions (some shoppers thought they spotted Edward Snowden on the beach). Ah, small towns ...the real CNN of life.

Back home. It is hot!  No problem ... I am relaxed, centered, clean, clear, aroma-ized, freshly flip-flopped ... and ready to listen to a stream of messages demanding I get my lazy *** in gear.  Ah well, home again.

July 02, 2013


 ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’.  ~Mark Twain

I have described London more often than I can remember and have never felt that I got the city, or its people, right-it is, I think the most unfathomable of them all. 

I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a client when a tall elegant man in ‘high middle age’ walked stiffly in and ordered a cup of coffee.  He wore a hat tilted over his brow.  He looked as if he had enjoyed perhaps rather too good a dinner the night before, and he emanated an air of unconcerned, if not actually oblivious, composure.  I put him down for mildly eccentric and thought to myself that only in London could one still see such a genial figure, at once so urbane and so well, well-used, more or less direct from the eighteenth century.

When the man walked out he stopped at my table, tipped his hat, smiled, and left.

‘Know who that was?’ asked the proprietor.  ‘Of course’, I replied, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.  

safe 4th 00✗ツ