Wednesday, June 23, 2010

6/1/2010 – Day Fifteen of England Tour: We've Come 360

So here we are:

Early-morning risers

And globetrotting returnees

To the soil that Chris Columbus

Stole from Native Americans

(Total spotted-dick move on his part).

And I’m still “that girl”—

The one with the massive luggage

Flagged as “HEAVY” at the airport.

Thanks a lot, mom.

Once upon some time ago

I made a scrapbook of souvenirs—

The covers are chocolate wrappers

And the pages are notepad stickies—

And inside it goes

Movie and theater tickets,

Brochures and receipts,

Boarding passes and ticket stubs,

Breakfast cards for hotel diners,

Postcard ads and souvenir tags;

Tickets from King Lear, Blood Brothers,,

Warwick castle and the British Museum,

Receipts from various Italian pubs,

Tags from store-bought wooden swords,

Rosetta Stone scripts from the water bottle box;

A boarding pass for 25A,

A Travelcard for three days of May;

Tickets to Shakespeare’s house and gardens,

A guest key card to Hotel St. Giles;

There’s the heritage pass, which came in handy,

And the student ID, which I never once used;

Some labels I tore off bottles of water—

We all have our quirky habits—

Basically anything useless and trivial

Provides a means for me to document

Places I’ve been, things I’ve done,

Sort of like a multitude of passport stamps,

Only with no security system

That requires you to remove your belt

And any form of jewelry—

Though I did manage to get my arrow-shaped pen

Through security without a stampede of cops

Tackling me down on suspicion of terrorism

(I’d say, I’m not even Muslim, dagnabbit,

And the pen was from Tintern Abbey. Blame them!).

Fourteen days of hours-long coach rides,

Guided tours, finance-draining shopping sprees

And less-than-sanitary conditions

Within hostels and public restrooms

Has led us back to where we started—

Not the same airport,

But same system, same process,

Falling asleep to the in-flight movie,

With drawn-up knees in ear-popping altitude,

Head on shoulder of the fellow vagabond

Who followed me to London, from London and back—

It’s like déjà vu, 360 in scope.

The journey’s not over

Just because we’re heading back.

We know what to look forward to

When we return someday—

Come hell or high water,

I will return.

5/31/2010 – Day Fourteen of England Tour: The Republic of Heaven Must Be Missing Its Ice Cream

“Lyra and her daemon

Moved through the darkening hall,

Taking care to keep to one side,

Out of sight of the kitchen.”

And so begins Book One,

The Golden Compass of His Dark Materials,

Beginning on these grounds of Oxford

Where the author resides—

The university,

Where Lyra ran amok with her daemon—

One day just a renegade orphan,

The next a navigator of high seas,

A bear-riding soldier

And a diplomat of dimensions

Traipsing through time and space

With her shape-shifter at her side,

One day a cat, the next a ferret—

Not unlike that man we met on the street

With a cat on a leash and photos of their travels,

The cat on dashboards and motorbikes,

Beaches and highways,

More of a dog than a cat

In his thrill-seeking wanderlust

Beyond Meow Mix and catnaps.

Now at Oxford U,

A word not far off

From the whimsy of mind’s eyes,

With the dodo bird sculptures,

And Gemini, and griffins, and horse-drawn carriages,

And heads of dead scholars

Like convicts on London Bridge,

It’s as though I stepped into the pages

Of a series I adore,

Of angels and witches and original sin,

Human experiments and parallel dimensions,

All from the mind of Sir Philip Pullman,

A true visionary of the mind’s eye

Of worlds among worlds.

Little wonder C.S. Lewis attended here,

Where his nickname was Dodo—

Hence the Dodo of Wonderland—

And the rabbit the color

Of an old man’s beard—

Alice’s father, specifically.

There is something about this place—

Oxford University

That spurns the imaginations of those

Who wield a pen that is mightier than the sword.

They hail from this campus like Neverland alumni,

Making names for themselves in the worlds they create;

“‘And then what?’ said her daemon sleepily.

‘Build what?’

‘The Republic of Heaven,’ said Lyra.”

In the many Italian restaurants

I have dined at these past two weeks,

I have learned my share of Italian words—

Il pesce, antipasto, salmone, birra—

Which means beer in both Italian and Arabic!—

And then there’s pudding—

Originally the Latin word botellus,

Meaning “small sausage,”

A key ingredient in medieval Europe.

Pudding is a broad term for the British,

For it applies to any dessert,

Be it brownies, cheesecake,

Or my favorite: ice cream.

Speaking of which:

~*Tartufo Classico*~

Not only is it the cutest name for a dessert

Ever to be thought up and committed to menu,

It’s also the most delicious

Singular scoop of ice cream I have ever had—

And that’s saying a lot,

For ice cream is my essential basic food group.

My dessert arrives—

Brought in by an accented waiter who says

I resemble Jennifer Lopez

And I’m sitting next to Elvis Presley—

And it’s only one scoop on a large round plate—

Brits seem to favor small desserts

With plates double their size—

But one spoonful transports me to

Cream-filled chocolate-hazelnut gelato bliss,

Covered with crushed caramelized hazelnuts

And sprinkled with cocoa powder—

Is this the Republic of Heaven that Lyra spoke of?

We have come full circle

To arrive back in London,

Where storm clouds hold vigil—

“For there’s no place like London,

There’s no place like London

There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit

And the vermin of the world inhabit it

And their morals aren’t worth what a pig can spit

And it goes by the name of London!”

That’s Sweeney Todd’s take on it;

For me it’s the world of

Great musical theatre,

Gardens of Remembrance,

Museums of centuries past

And very scary traffic.

Not to mention salons

With names like Pleasant Barbers—

Sweeney Todd being one of them.

Storm clouds hold vigil over London

Like belligerent troops—

Like the rally taking place

On some side of the city

Against Israel and their exploits—

Why am I missing all the action,

Cooped up in this hotel room

With only the television

To connect me to worldly happenings?

But then again, I’ve seen so much already—

Saint Augustine’s gardens and Churchwell Path,

Orwell’s Ministry of Truth,

Cabarets of words and lit,

Aztec ruins and busts of Ramses,

Venetian masks and the Rosetta Stone,

Its inscriptions on apparel and accessories—

All in the city where London Bridge falls down.

There’s time in the world to rail and rally

Politics and government antics;

But for now, our last day of the tour,

This ice cream scoop with the cute name

Brought to me in the hotel restaurant

By a waiter who calls me Jennifer Lopez

Will be the extent of my nightly shenanigans.

Tomorrow’s another day—

The last day—

And I welcome bedtime in this hotel

Over bedtime in any hostel,

And tomorrow we enter the time warp again,

The time change six hours back in time,

On a plane for eight hours—

That’s four-hundred and eighty minutes

Of ear-popping altitude,

Sleeping with knees drawn up

And a pillow on the shoulder of my fellow vagabond—

We’ve come full circle

And go back to where we started.

Latitude? Longitude?

Our number is 360.

Now that’s wanderlust!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

5/30/2010 – Day Thirteen of England Tour: Passports in Our Minds

These past two weeks I have toured

Museums and castles that blew my mind;

Tintern Abbey and an ancient castle,

Or what’s left of them;

Vast rooms and high ceilings

With bricks missing in action

And assembled together

Like Picasso paintings

Of human faces come undone,

Disjointed in disarray,

Walls open to the fields,

Ceilings open to the sky.

Robert Herrick wrote a poem

Entitled “Delight in Disorder,”

“A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;—
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.”

Disorder is a mark of age

For castles of medieval origins,

Fragmented from the years

With “a wild civility,”

A rustic ruggedness,

Marks of a worn passport

That has seen many worlds

Evolve from the same piece of land.

I’m at that point where going out

On explorers’ treks through town

Is secondary to staying in

And reading in the lounge—

Books acquired on our travels

And puzzles at dinner tables

Are now pastimes for us bold trekkers;

Travel is weary, luxury stable.

In this lounge we talk of our travels,

Of the British and their Italian food,

Of coffee shops and street performers,

Of Spotted Dick—

A British pudding spotted with raisins

And topped with Squirty Cream—

Not yet in the States

But looking back with nostalgia

At the places we’ve been,

Our minds like passports stamped

And worn from use and carry.

In this hostel

We are not served, nor are we starved,

For we shop to fill this pantry;

Butter our toast in the morning,

Eat our lunch on our coach travels,

Cook for ourselves and feast by night.

In this hostel

We feast tonight

On pasta and salad,

Cheesecake and chips,

Water and soda,

Courtesy of our chaperones,

Grandfatherly in their care—

For their reputations would suffer

If they let students starve under the watch—

We own this hostel

Like the birds own Stonehenge,

Feeding ourselves,

Staying in, going out.

It’s a hostel, for goodness sake—

A pseudo-hotel for poorer people—

So why do we feel so at home?

Why do the couches and the books in our bags

Beckon us more than the outside world?

We have been places, and travelled throughout;

And now we are the birds of Stonehenge.

The ones giving admission

And charging us for room and board

Do not own it—

We are the birds of Stonehenge,

And for the time being,

This is our home.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

5/29/2010 – Day Twelve of England Tour: Books galore, what the deuce! Now I become Dr. Seuss.

As if my luggage

Hadn’t gained enough weight in books

The first eleven days—

“Book fair” is another term for “gold mine,”

So says the British Lingo Dictionary

That I’m making up as I go along.

As if I could resist:

Bronte books for two pounds each,

Orwellian farms with farmers impeached;

Sir Wilde’s account of prison life,

Polygamist sects with mutinous wives;

Angela’s Ashes of Irish martyrs,

Historical tabs of country charters;

Memoirs and bios in nonfiction’s aisle,

Kafka’s insect and state trial;

Crime and Punishment in a Russian court,

All unabridged, no classics cut short;

Salmon Rushdie within banned boarders,

Vintage books from elderly hoarders;

Graphic novels—Marvel, DC,

Dr. Seuss—the Lorax, his trees;

Harry Potter, accio books,

Round ’em up with a shepherd’s crook—

Time for bookworms to indulge,

Make our luggage swell and bulge;

Extra weight is the price to pay

And I feel very wealthy today.

I don’t know what came over me,

Writing a poem that rhymes!

I assure you, it won’t happen again;

Rhyme-less suits me fine.

What do my fellow travelers

Get out of people-watching

On the streets of Hay-on-Wye?

Snapping photos of that sweet-faced dog—

A mastiff mix, I’m guessing—

Sitting on the curb,

I can understand;

But photos of faces of strangers to us,

Going about their business,

Smiling, scowling, sunbathing in their underwear—

(As I saw in a park back in Bath)—

I suppose it’s akin to Facebook-stalking,

Only in person and across the ocean;

And the nagging sense of wrong

And violation of privacy

Keeps my shutter on the dog

And the pigeons at the abbey

Like beggars seeking sanctuary—

Feed one, thirty more flock to your feet.

I suppose it’s my books

That chronicle where I have been—

Masterpieces of the British Museum,

100 Facts to Know About the Ancient World

It’s like taking the British Museum home with me

Without lugging ancient artifacts across the sea.

Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer

Brings the Hathaway cottage home with me,

Both the history of its family seal

And the luxury in garden with the feather-stuck potatoes.

Stonehenge books bring its mystery

To the landscape of my backyard;

De Profundis, Ballad of Reading Gaol,

They teleport me to a jail cell—

Oscar’s Wilde’s jail cell,

Writing away within barred windows,

Jailed for homosexual acts—

The 19th Wife by an obscure author

Transports me to a polygamist sect

Where 19th wife, like Scheherazade,

Disrupts the cycle of altar imprisonment;

With Shirley, Villette and The Professor,

I get better acquainted with Charlotte Bronte,

Mother of Jane—Jane Eyre, that is;

With Angela’s Ashes I voyage to Ireland

And reap the ruins of miserable patriots;

Animal Farm brings 1984 to the countryside

Where Big Brother is a pig

And those guilty of thoughtcrime

Will be trampled in the stables;

Brochures from Blood Brothers and King Lear in tow

Provide evidence of my travels

Through London and Stratford,

As well as bragging rights

In the theatre community of FM—

Now if only I possessed one

From the musical Matilda—

Running this year, come November—

My collection would be complete.

Why is Leominster

Spelled the way it is,

When it’s not pronounced as such?

A silly language, ’tis.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

5/28/2010 – Day Eleven of England Tour: Strawberry Fields Forever


A good night’s sleep seemed so far away,

But it looks as though it came to stay,

Oh, I believe in yesterday…

Sleep came at the expense of

Experiencing the night life of Liverpool,

Its club in the ally with John Lennon’s statue

Across from Vivienne Westwood

Under a web of ally lights

That make every night a celebration—

But all that stuff looks well enough in daylight

On this tour of the city

And its Beatles sites and stores.

Who knew John Lennon,

As hippie as they come,

Mr. “Give Peace a Chance,”

Had a traumatic life?

Put up for adoption

To a tyrannical aunt,

Losing his mother

Within months of meeting her—

It’s a wonder he didn’t write a tell-all.

It would be better reading

Than Confessions of an Heiress, certainly.

Who wants to read about someone born into money

Over the classic rags-to-riches story?

McCartney once drafted a song called

“Sally Hawkins,”

About a girl who works maintenance at weddings—

It’s just a summer job, right?

Then it’s back to being a teen, come fall,

Back to chop shops and learning to drive

Stick shifts in Britain’s narrow streets.

The girl grew up to be

“Eleanor Rigby”

(Named for an actress and a grocery store),

Now an older woman, who

“Picks up rice in a church where a wedding has been,

Lives in a dream;

Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps

In a jar by the door—

Who is it for?”

A sadder song, it grew to be,

For there was hope for Sally Hawkins,

Who was young, with the world before her.

“Eleanor Rigby died in the church

And was buried along with her name—

Nobody came.”

McCartney knew how to aim for the hearts

Of his audience, young and old—

“All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people),

Where do they come from?

All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people),

Where do they belong?”

While I don’t live by the hippie maxim of

“All you need is love,”

We could all lend an ear to the Beatles’ song

“She’s Leaving Home.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Teen girl runs flees privileged life,

Parents gave her everything money could buy—

But life’s essentials have no price tag,

And she’s finding

“Something inside that was always denied for

So many years (bye-bye);

She’s leaving home (bye-bye).”

What is the Liver Bird, really?

Part spoonbill, part cormorant? A wyvern?

It’s only so visible from the ground

On top of the Liver Building.

1207 was the year of Liverpool’s City Charter,

Bestowed by King John,

Who wielded a seal with an eagle—

A seal that was lost during the siege of 1644,

And an imitation was made—

A cheap imitation, by the looks of it.

It’s a pseudo-eagle, then—a rogue species

That yearns to join the ranks of the noble eagles.

But it’s noble in its own right,

For if its statue were to fly away,

Liverpool would cease to exist—

Or so I read.

At the end of the day, I realize

There is some truth to the lyrics

“Living is easy with your eyes closed”—

While the song may say

Living is easy in Strawberry Fields, where

“Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about,”

Like Neverland freezes moments in time,

“Strawberry Fields forever,”

Living can be easy with eyes closed

When you skip a night on the town

To grab forty winks.


A good night’s sleep seemed so far away,

But it looks as though it’s here to stay,

Oh, I believe in yesterday…

Friday, June 11, 2010

5/27/2010 – Day Ten of England Tour: Hotel Bed = Coma

Ah, Liverpool.

I love you already for this hotel,

A breath of fresh air after a string of hostels,

Which had their merits but can’t compare to

These comfy beds and fancy bathrooms

With elegantly wrapped soap

And—here’s the cherry on top—free towels!

I like luxury, I admit it, but don’t we all?

I’ve come to realize that

What is first floor for us (Americans)

Is ground floor for them (Brits)

And our second floor

Is their first floor.

It certainly makes sense,

More so than the ancient Chinese age system

That I read about in a book

Purchased from the British Museum:

A child was born one year old

And aged two the next New Year’s Day.

A child born on New Year’s Eve

Would be two years old the next day.

A diagnosis of rapid aging syndrome

Would be in order.

At lunch in the hotel restaurant

On the first floor—or second, in our book—

I find I am accustomed to the system of

Pay, then eat.

No waiting for waiters to wait on you—

Take your pick from the menu,

Order at the counter,

Pay, sit and wait.

It will take a while to adapt,

Once I’m back in the states,

To the system of wait,

And wait, and wait,

Till the waiter takes your order

And then wait, and wait some more.

Let’s explore the city, I say,

Once lunch is done and eaten.

But I’m worn down,

Visibly fatigued,

After hours on the coach

And less than forty winks.

Let’s go out, I say—

There’s museums, sights to see;

We’re near the docks—a boat ride, maybe—

Let me run to my room and get my purse—

But bed, how you beckon me,

And now I’m Rip Van Winkle—

Do what you will, out on the town,

While I slip into a coma—

Twelve hours, about—

Just call it slowing down and smelling the roses.

5/26/2010 – Day Nine of England Tour: Hello, Mr. Hyde.

Though I only know Wordsworth

For wandering lonely as a cloud,

Anyone whose house is now a museum

Must have done something or other

That’s historically significant.

Allegedly his Lyrical Ballads—

Opening with Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner”

—made quite the impression in the

English Romantic Movement;

But besides that, he had

A neurotic sister, a writer in her own right—

An affair with a French girl

And (here’s the bonus) illegitimate children—

I wonder if his personal life

Was as much a headline-maker

As was his poetry.

Of his French mistress, in

“Vaudracour and Julia,”

He wrote of:

“O happy time of youthful lovers”

Ending with:

“Thus lived the Youth

Cut off from all intelligence with man,

And shunning even the light of the common day;

Nor could the voice of Freedom, which through France

Full speedily resounded, public hope,

Or personal memory in his own deep wrongs,

Rouse him; but in those solitary shades

His days he wasted, an imbecile mind!”

Bitter, much?

This is not the whimsical cheer

That shone through

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

But then again, e.e. cummings—

You know, the cutesy guy with no capital letters—

Wrote us a plea to

“pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease;

your victum (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness

—electrons deify one razorblade

into a mountainrange.”

Discovering the dark side

Of poets thought to be happy-go-lucky

Is an enlightening experience,

If not unsettling.

Who knows what Beatrix Potter wrote

Behind the scenes of Peter Rabbit

That wasn’t rated G?

Not even Dr. Seuss was all rhyme and whimsy—

“Yertle the Turtle” was about Hitler,

“The Butter Battle Book” was about the Cold War—

But that was banned, so let’s take to the black market.

He may have penned a book on the Watergate scandal,

“Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!”

But this was never confirmed.

So what don’t you know your childhood icons?

I suggest you take the risk of disillusionment

To expand your horizons and discover

What passed under your radar as a kid.

It's like testing conspiracy theories

By re-watching Disney for its “secret messages.”

5/25/2010 – Day Eight of England Tour: Guy Fawkes and the Round Table

America should take a leaf out of England’s book and

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Not just by watching V for Vendetta

But by naming inns after Guy Fawkes,

Like 25 High Petergate in York,

The birthplace of the gunpowder plot conspirator

In 1570, thirty-six years to execution—

Hung, drawn and quartered

In 1606, the thirty-first of January—

Would the rest of the world know his name

If it wasn’t for Alan Moore

And his comic book hero with the Guy Fawkes mask?

Even the atheist in me can appreciate

High ceilings and stained-glass windows

And enviable architectural skills

In an ancient cathedral;

The cosmopolitan in me appreciates the brochures

In French, German, Japanese, Chinese,

Italian, Finnish, Russian—

America should take a leaf out of England’s book

And not shy away from diversity;

Quit whining about having to dial 1 for English

And expand your worldview to include

The rest of the globe.

This is the most claustrophobic tea house

I have ever shared a table with four people in.

We are as cramped for space as London’s streets.

Let’s move in close like we’re in a group hug

But we’re really claiming space like armrests on an airplane.

Moving our feet a quarter of an inch

Counts as playing footsie.

Lucky our laps have room for our teacups

When the sandwiches arrive.

Call us the knights they managed to squeeze into

The Round Table.

What have I learned today?

When public restrooms don't work,

They are out of action, not out of order.

And of course, admission to them isn't free,

But then again, what is?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

5/24/2010 – Day Seven of England Tour: Don’t Tame the Shrew – Let her Speak.

If the world is a stage and we are all players,

Our rapport with the sport of life

Is enhanced with travel and exploration

Of history embodied in picturesque houses

Out of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

With luxurious gardens that scare away crows

With hanging potatoes stuck with feathers—

Better than a scarecrow without a brain, huh?

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate

And call upon my soul within the house,

Write loyal cantons of contemned love,

And sing them loud even in the dead of night.”

So says Olivia in her disguise as Cesario,

Words she delivers to the apple of her love’s eye,

Lamenting her own unrequited affections.

Willows, a symbol of grief and loss,

Gave retreats in cabins,

And in the backyard of Shakespeare’s wife

Is where it stands, where the woman so disparaged by scholars

As the shrew and seductress of a juvenile Will,

Though little is known about her life,

And speculators pounce like British tabloids.

Germaine Greer was civil enough to do her justice,

With research into her background

And a novel in her honor, entitled Shakespeare’s Wife.

There’s plenty written about the man himself—

Now what about his lady?

Who would King Arthur be without Guinevere,

Robin Hood without Maid Marian?

Let Anne Hathaway have her say with the marriage counselor—

Infidelity, irreconcilable differences, whatever it may be.

These days were have our big screens, our widescreens,

Our high-definition TV sets with TiVo,

In our living rooms for the world to see

And think highly of us.

In Shakespeare’s time, it was beds.

Sleeping on the floor was commonplace—

Beds were a luxury, the status symbol,

And not at all unusual to be placed in the kitchen,

For guests to marvel at like a museum piece,

Or a sport’s car invoking neighbors’ envy.

Makes you think, doesn’t it,

Of how far we’ve come,

And how much we take for granted.

Watching Shakespeare in a British theatre

Feels more authentic than in America.

Here is Shakespeare’s work in Shakespeare’s country,

Like the musical Matilda, playing in November,

Based on a book of the great Roald Dahl,

The British genius who defined my childhood—

Anyone want to stowaway to Stratford for Thanksgiving?

Who would want King Lear as a leader,

A man who chooses allies and enemies poorly—

Malevolent daughters with venom veiled

By inflation of their lord’s ego

Over the honest voice of a daughter

“So young, my lord, and true,”

Whose word he takes for scorn,

For she claims he is mortal and not godly.

He bites the only hand that feeds him

In banishing her from his kingdom,

But he sees, with cavalry and elements against him,

“I am a very foolish fond old man,

Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less,

And, to deal plainly,

I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”

Indeed he is less in his perfect mind

Than is the Fool, with his painted face

And court jester’s mannerisms,

Yet more truth in social commentary

Than in Lear’s Narcissus mirror—

If you think Ophelia plays the “Woe is me” card,

You should see this guy—

Banishing his kind daughter and having the gall to say

“I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”

Their reunion in her castle

Where a daughter takes task of a mother

To a fallen king, infantile in his senility,

Is nonetheless cause for rejoice—

Until Shakespeare decides the audience is too happy

With recent developments

And lets his characters begin their ride into the sunset

Only to step on a land mine on their way off.

Where thunder, rain and wind once sounded,

Silence follows Lear in entrance

With his daughter dead in his arms.

“Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,

And thou no breath at all?”

Shakespeare knew how to lure his audience eager

And have them depart weeping,

And I shall go to bed in awe and in sadness,

Awe at the production, stunning performances,

Grief at the tragedy of it all.

Damn it, Shakespeare, were you a masochist?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

5/23/2010 – Day Six of England Tour: Four-Star Hostels are Princess Castles Compared to Three-Star Hostels

This old Abbey by the name of Lacock

Is where the first two Harry Potter films were shot.

What an honor to be at the site

Of where literary disfigurement took place—

Where miscast preteens masqueraded

As Rowling’s characters,

Clumsily rendered after the paper shredder

Tore up six hundred pages worth of novel

Into cheap imitation cinema.

But, to his credit, Daniel Radcliffe

Has since made a name for himself—

Naked on stage as the star of Equus,

Blinding horses and blind-sighting critics on Broadway.

Got to start somewhere, right?

The rule of proper coach etiquette is

Turn off your engine whilst stationary,

So says the signs at Warwick castle parking lot.

The rule of common courtesy is

Turn off the flash when taking pictures in the castle,

Though that makes for some blurry photos

Of swords and armor framing doorways

With skulls and antlers as the centerpiece

And replicas of knights in shining armor

On their armored horses,

Posed like the wood carvings of the battlefield

In medieval furniture on display—

You have your saints, your soldiers and your royals

And their thrones and their pedestals,

Intricacy of the keenest of woodcarvers.

With the flash turned off,

A photo emerges dark, with tourists silhouetted

Against the stained-glass window—

Artsy, I think, and stylistic,

Ominous indoors and luminous outdoors,

Clear skies and green trees in the background of darkness.

Let’s have a seat near this window

Where two mirrors on opposite walls face each other,

And I’ll take a picture of you taking my picture,

And you’ll take a picture of me taking your picture,

And the suit of armor in the background can be a curious bystander,

While no flash reflects off the mirrors—

Courtesy is a win-win situation.

These portraits of aristocratic noblemen

In feminine wigs and trailing robes

And pale noblewomen with rosy-cheeked somber faces

Are much more lifelike than the creepy wax figures

With dead eyes following our every move

And recorded voices conversing with the houseguest,

A young Winston Churchill.

Hey, I wanted to go to the Princess Castle,

But it’s only for children, sadly.

What have I learned?

Four-star hostels are better than three-star hostels,

For the cheaper towels and better laundry services,

Spacious rooms with panoramic windows,

Bathrooms with no spiders and toilet handles that stay on.

Finally, a good night’s sleep

And no more dirty clothes stinking up my luggage.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

5/22/2010 – Day Five of England Tour: So this is where the Wife of Bath hails from.

Never tell me Justin Bieber

Can carry a tune in a bucket—

Have him come to Bath

And see what he’s up against—

Hear the street performers soar

With voices like eagles,

Not the waddling pigeons

That flutter and beg for bread.

Dinner theater has never been better—

Pasta in an umbrella’s shade

With free concerts in the square,

Magicians and dancers and standing ovations—

Is that a homeless man?

He must have paid for lessons

At some point in his life,

For he is skilled at the recorder

And worth more than the coins

Tossed in his case like the wishing well

At the Roman City of Bath.

Bath’s Roman City

Has its share of performers—

A woman approaches me

In ancient robes and tall hair,

Black and curled, like mine—

“Your hair is lovely,” she says to me,

“Does your slave girl do it for you?

Hours she spent perfecting my locks—

A worthy servant, she is.”

Little does she know

I am my own slave girl

At the mercy of hair so dense

The only style permitted

Under its tyrannical regime

Is short and curly.

Just as Stonehenge is for the birds—

The crows, specifically

—The sacred pool of Bath,

Once thought to have healing powers,

Belongs to the ducks,

And the pigeons that bathe in its shallow ends.

Bath’s Roman City,

How you tempt me with your gift shop

And its lethal-looking souvenirs:

A wooden sword replica—

Try getting that through airport security!
I guess a dagger will have to do—

Smaller, less threatening, obviously a toy—

Though it’s poor compensation

For a sword enthusiast such as myself.

A mug may be an all-too common souvenir,

Sold at every gift shop under the sun,

But this one looks like pottery clay spun at the wheel,

With a replica relic in place of a logo—

Proof of where I’ve been

And fitting to a fancy spot of tea.

Italian for lunch, Italian for dinner—

Hopefully repetition will not breed contempt.

Friday, June 4, 2010

5/21/2010 – Day Four of England Tour: Stonehenge is for the Birds

Our next trek is to the stones

That belong to the crows and their nests—

And the journey there was just as fun

As the destination.

What do you do when your bus breaks down

In the middle of a highway?

Wave to passing cars, of course!

Happy waves with a sunny smile,

The princess wave with a Mona Lisa grin,

And the call for help in getting to Stonehenge,

Which involves throwing myself at the window in agony.

I get smiles, waves and weird looks,

But an actor knows the show must go on.

My public! They love me! They really love me!

(No, really, they do.)

What have I learned from paying admission for Stonehenge?

It doesn’t belong to the landowners

Or the tour guides—

Stonehenge is for the birds.

Humans wonder,

How did it get here?
Was it alien invaders, terrestrial and otherwise?

Is it a code? A prophecy of the apocalypse?

A forewarning of the current recession?

Or the Gulf oil spill? Who knows?

Meanwhile, the birds wonder what we’re squawking about.

It’s just home.

They fly, they hover, they land, they perch,

They enter their lairs through holes in the stone,

Build their nests, feed their young—

What’s so mysterious? they wonder.

It’s just home.

It doesn’t belong to conspiracy theorists

Who think some semblance of truth

Can stake their claim.

Stonehenge is for the birds.

We don’t know what it is, but they do—

It’s just home.

I want to make shirts that say

“Team Bronte” and “Team Austen,”

And I am firmly Team Bronte,

Primarily Charlotte, the mastermind of Jane Eyre,

For Jane Austen bores me,

And Lady Charlotte said so herself:

“Jane Austen is not a poetess,

Has no sentiment, has no eloquence.

Anything like warmth or enthusiasm,

Anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt,

Is utterly out of place in commending these works;

She ruffles the reader by nothing vehement,

Disturbs him by nothing profound;

The passions are perfectly unknown to her.”

Indeed, I would rather read

Of madwomen in attics

And unconventional heroines—

Jane Eyre, who is not pretty,

Edward Rochester, who is not handsome,

Nor a morally sound prince on a white horse—

I’m on Team Bronte,

Though I will admit,

Jane Austen’s house is more interesting than her books,

If only for the history behind it—

Feather pens, donkey carriages,

A kitchen with a cauldron

And a desk with a creepy wax figure facing the window.

Turn it around to see Norman Bates’ mom,

Or, more specifically, her corpse.

Dinner is Italian tonight,

Then back we walk down the street

Up the hill and back to the hostel.

So this is what a hostel is—

Like a hotel, only dorm-like,

And much lesser sanitary conditions.

Three roommates, two bunk beds,

I can handle,

But three spiders in our bathroom?
A toilet that sounds like the Titanic sinking?

And towels cost a pound fifty?

Well, everything has a price tag.

5/20/2010 – Day Three of England Tour: Sights! Sounds! Books!

So what have I learned today

From this literary-themed tour

In the city where London Bridge is falling down

(Or so I thought in my nursery-rhyme days)?

Good writers make crappy husbands.

T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens—

Is treating your wife badly a job requirement for these guys?

Can’t say I was disillusioned

For I didn’t hold them to a pedestal,

Though T.S. Eliot was quite the genius.

Genius always comes with a price.

But how eager I am

To see the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth

In George Orwell’s 1984—



No thoughtcrime here, sir, just passing on by.

We love Big Brother! God bless and… such.

To see it before me makes the book more real,

And all the more frightening.

“How many fingers do you see?”

I won’t be a statistic in your regime,

Nor will I fall to Big Brother’s knees.

But would that be preferable to living on Animal Farm?

There’s something to think about.

The British Museum is like any other—

Myriad paintings, innumerable relics,

Overload for discovery mode—

Where to: the Aztec exhibit

Or the ancient Greek statues?

Venetian masks? Egyptian busts?

So much to see, so few hours in the day.

So much to know, so much to take in—

I’ll take pictures of the signs

And the history they tell

To preserve this information

In my photo museum.

Then there’s the bookshop—

500 Things to Know About the Ancient World

Masterpieces of the British Museum

The Legendary Past: World of Myths

Two hardcover, one paperback

—If I can’t take the relics home with me,

This is the next best thing.

Taking a picture of the Rosetta Stone

Requires that I barricade my way through the crowd,

Shoving my way through so I can get my shot.

It’s a paparazzi target

Like a celebrity strolling through L.A.

Everyone wants a piece of it.

The gift shop sells items with its inscription—

Scarves, shirts, coasters, posters, water bottles—

“Let me get this for you,” the boyfriend says of a pretty scarf,

Black with white inscriptions.

“It’s thirty pounds,” I say. “I’ll take the water bottle, thank you,

White with black inscriptions.”

Later that evening, lo and behold,

A cabaret—literary cabaret, that is,

In a pub where restrooms are called water closets

And the customers must pay, then eat,

Which, once you think about it, makes perfect sense.

Lo and behold the poets on stage,

Tooting their horns, and rightfully so,

Luring us into buying their books

By wowing us all with their eloquence.

“What is a chop shop?”

So asks Tim Wells,

Testing our knowledge of British slang.

He’s man of many talents—

A skilled poet proving to be a formidable stand-up comic.

A teenage girl explains—

It’s a British term for shopping mall.

Tim Wells offers his own definition:

“If you’re a teenager, it’s heaven,

If you’re my age, it’s hell.”

His next question for us is

“What is dogging?”

The crowd murmurs

And it’s Sarah Stockbridge who answers,

Muse of Vivienne Westwood,

Model and actress turned author—

“Dogging is when couples have sex in cars

In broad daylight for the viewing pleasure of passerby.”

And so she paves the way

For the reading of the poem entitled “Dogging”—

Told you Tim Wells was funny.

The floor now belongs to Vivienne’s muse,

With a reading of her book, Hammer,

A Novel of the Victorian Underworld,

Of a vagabond thief

Whose pickpocket ways are her bread and butter,

Ironically named Grace,

Not so ironically surnamed Hammer.

Lady Stockbridge has caught our attention

Off the runway and the silver screen,

Proving she’s not all glitz and glamour,

Though that’s certainly part of her charm.

London is beautiful at night,

And I feel like the city lights

Light up just for us.

Wow, is that hokey or what?

Well, I can’t take it back now.

I’ll swallow my pride and take a stroll with you,

Significantly yours, and you significantly mine,

In the city where London Bridge falls down.