Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I've Moved!

Hey guys. I found that I can upload media files on this website compared to Blogger, so here I am, nothings changed except the address:


Sorry I haven’t updated in a bit. I have had alot  of work in recent month while this adventure winds to an end. But I have kept a hournal, it’s just the transcribing that needs to get done. It will get done during the holiday season. Look forward to Berlin and Copenhagen as well as my project called “Socialism in the UK” with the interviews of Tony Benn, John Makey, Richard Kirkwood, and Ken Leech.
Seth Thomas

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Zurich, the Little-Big City!

27/10/09  07:56  In Switzerland after a great nights sleep in a couchette compartment on the 12 hour train to Zurich.  This has been such a fascinating ride trying to converse with Italian and German.  I have been relying on reading body language.  There was a man who spoke Italian and English but got off a few stops ago.  I think between the 4 men in this compartment, we spoke 3 different languages.  At first, the steward took my passport and my ticket and Eurail pass with him.  I was very confused and a little scared, being in a foreign country without the passport on my immediate person. I’ll have to continue this conversation later my pen ran out of ink, and the man next to me lent me his.  I didn’t want to hold onto it for long, so I’ll finish saying that the steward took all passports so when crossing the border in the middle of the night, we as a compartment were not disturbed.  I got it back when the steward woke us up an hour ago with espresso and a muffin.  I love trains! (New Pen) Aha! A much better pen GIVEN to me by the man across.  I kept rejecting because I didn’t know he was saying “gift” in German.  Also the man next to me fixed my old pen but it was a lesser one than this.  We are about a half hour away from Zurich now.  This is what I was looking for in this adventure.  The exploration of people.  I woke up around 6am to see dawn over the Alps.  Small houses with lights on with the mountains silhouetted in the background.  I have to start thinking in a German mind frame. 

09:50 Oh my! Zurich is beautiful.  Grosse Schoen!  I am presently sitting in the city’s highest part, the Lindenhof, which is a wide terrace of Lime trees overlooking the river.  So, my plan for the 12 hours in Switzerland?  Take the S-bahn 10 for a beautiful hike in the mountains towards a cable car back to Zurich.  Uetliberg-Felsenegg-Adliswil-Zurich.  If there is time, both Grossmuenster and Fraulmuenster along with the Landesmuseum near the rail station, or Bahnhof.  I wish I had another day, it’s just spectacular. 

10:35 On the S-10 towards Uetliberg.  The view is supposed to be amazing.  I first have to see the point “Uto Kulu” which is a good view supposedly.  And then on to a path that is shaped like the planets, strangely enough towards Felsenegg, where I can ride a cable car towards Adliswil where I can take the S-4 back to Zurich.  Except for the cable car, the trains are free with my Eurail pass. 

11:20 I am sitting at the “Top of Zurich.”  And it is a sight beyond words.  I can see the entire city of Zurich from above and all the mountains surrounding.  I can probably see Germany from here but I do not know the borders to be sure.  You can see the snow-capped mountains to the East and South but there are mountains surrounding me.  I went up another 72 meters on the observatory tower to get an even better view.  Truly epic.  I had no idea what to expect in Zurich.  Surely not this.  Switzerland is amazingly beautiful, especially this time of year!  The leaves are changing colors.  It is cool and nice, especially with all the hiking I am doing today.  So sweating is not an issue.   There are wisps of clouds here and there and mist and fog in the distance but other than that, blue skies up above me with the sun beating down.  The sun’s location in the sky would say 10am or so, but it is 11:30 with daylight savings time.  With a unified Europe, their true time in Switzerland must be altered.  Ok, time to walk down the path through the Solar system!

12:30 When booking this trip, I had no IDEA I would be hiking the hill of Switzerland.  I am almost moved to tears on how beautiful it is.  The leaves are a spectrum of color from green and healthy to dull and brown and dry.  Yellow trees are illuminated by the sun.  This is the most beautiful autumn colors I have ever seen.  The path I am on goes right past many farms.  The ringing of cowbells is a familiar sound now as it harmonizes with the wind through the leaves and birds in the trees. All of this is with the epic view of Zurich See or Lake Zurich and the Alps.  The “Little Big City” is as beautiful as ever from up here.  I have past Neptune so far on my walk so getting closer and closer to Pluto, when it was a planet, of course. 

1:00pm  On the cable car down to Adliswil it cost 4 Swiss francs.  A fascinating system.  The door would not open into the boarding area until all of the passengers from the last car got off.  Then it automatically opened for me.  The car leaves at 1:05, so I am just sitting, waiting with a woman and her golden retriever until that time.  There is no one operating at this station.  It is all done electronically.  So, it will never be late.  So far, this has been a life-changing hike in the Swiss hills, but it’s not over yet!

            13:35 You can set your watch on these Swiss trains.  And in fact, I did.  There was a 2 franc store at the bahnhof in Adliswil so I got some nice Swiss sunglasses and a much needed comb.  I haven’t had one in months, just used my hand before.  The cable car was quick and exciting! Took me right into this small town, with kids on scooters and dogs being walked.  A good ol’ suburb of Zurich.  A slice of real life, Swiss life.  I simply love it here.  Everything is so easy going.  Everything just works and works perfectly.  Just breath-takingly amazing. 

14:50 Sitting in the Swiss National Museum watching old Swiss films including Ja-Soo! (1935) and Swiss Tour (1949) which was an American sailor getting all caught up in the Swiss languages and culture.  There is another that looks great that I would love to watch in full called “Tell , zony,Regie: M.K. Eschmann”

16:00 That was an amazing museum.  I didn’t know that Heidi and William Tell were both Swiss. Half of the museum did not have English, but there were many political cartoons about the Swiss and US Politics.  I talked to a man who worked there, and he showed me a real signature of Adolf Hitler, which we are not to take photos of but he said “go ahead, no flash, I didn’t see it.”  I am now sitting outside Kurtz/Schmuck UHREN listening to the bells of the clock and little Swiss figurines circling around.  A lot of Schmucks here. Now to a Mac store to check internet. 

16:53  Just went to the top of Grossmuenster. The cathedral was finished, at least the towers, in 1990.  It is  rather modern with very original and unique stained glass, by Signor Polke.  Amazing pieces of Art.  I got a pamphlet of them.  He also has quite a history and resume behind him.  Simply Amazing!  Zurich continues to amaze me.  So Swiss! I Love it!  I got a Swiss flag shirt all red with the white across the middle very excited to wear it.  I was not able to get to the fraumuenster before 17:00, closing, but it is still magnificent from outside.  Now off to find postcards and stamps! 
18:00 Sitting on the Zurich See facing the Grossmuenster. Looking north, a new city, a new love.  Each city grows in beauty in the night. And Zurich is no exception.  The reflection onto the water of the lights from the Little Big city bring such grace to an already impeccable city.  East Zo Schoen I did get into the Fraumuenster thus completing my checklist for today!  While trying to buy postcards the credit card system shutdown in the store so maybe it will be up and running soon.  I will go back in a half hour to check.  I am running low on cash, which is not good, since I need cash for my Hostel in Berlin.  The Fraumuenster was beautiful, another simple church, rather new and fresh looking, but with amazing stained glass.  I had to buy a picture because there was no photography allowed.  Now off to see if I can get these cards and then to the Mac store for internet.  Then to food and the Train!

            19:44 Tschuss Zurich.  On the train to Germany.  I had a mad dash in these last 45 minutes to write 3 post cards, since I just got them from the shop at 6:30, and a quick fish and chips dinner for 8 Swiss francs that I could carry onto the train.  I am truly in love with Zurich.  I have only felt this way about one other city and we all know that one.  I had the best hike of my life and a stunning day at the museum.  The Conductor made an announcement that my train is going through Prague.  That’s worrisome since my eurail pass is only for Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.  Not the ‘Czech Republic.’ I hope I don’t have to pay extra for it.  I didn’t book it, Rail Europe did.  Only four people here so far in this entire car, the seats are very comfortable.  No compartments this time.  Ooo, I see an IKEA in the distance.  It has supplied all the hostels I have been to so far, lets see what Berlin has in store.  Tonight marks the halfway point.  3 more left.  I am using the German phrase book a lot that Laura gave me to refresh my memory of German, but it is amazing how the Swiss know 4 languages and that is common.  German, Italian, French and English are all National languages of Switzerland.  I love the Swiss.


25/10/09 13:45 Rome.  To start where I left off, the train compartment was very cramped, with only one extra seat, 5 people were fighting for the rights to it.  I claimed it for a good 3 hours after the older man in front of me went to the bathroom.  Arriving at Roma Tiburtini at 6:50, I was disoriented and confused the station with Rome  Termini.  After wandering around the highways of Italy, I turned back and found the Metro.  It is strange how, similar the two lines of Roma are to Philly.  One Orange, one Blue.  One has graffiti on all the cars, one is spick and span and they are never convenient because you still have to walk a half hour after you get off to get to your destination.  I got off line B at Colloseo because it was the only stop that I could find on the map and was “close” to the Vatican.  Wandering through Old Ruins of Rome, find all of this fascinating but not where I wanted to start.  I set off to find out where St. Paul in the wall is.  The only walls I know are the Vaticans, so that was my destination.  There, I found that St. Pauls is no where near the Vatican, but rather south of the Roman Ruins.  So I decided to wait until later to discover what Dad told me to go to.  But on sheer luck, I came to Rome on the ONE day of the month that the Vatican Museum was free!  I had to wait in a line for 1.5 hours, but it saved my wallet a good deal.  And it was as epic as I remembered it in 4th grade.  Walking through the map room I saw this painting of Italy that I had in my room for many years.  Continuing on, I saw, of course, the Sistine Chapel.  It is amazing that one man painted that over 4 years with such great precision.  Not only is it one of the best paintings in the world, it was painted upside down on a ceiling.  Amazing.  After the Vatican, I decided to find my hostel and check in.  I took the Metro Line A to Termini, where I leave from tomorrow to Line B up to the Bologna stop, where the Youth Station Hostel resides.  A fine Hostel.  I am in a 12 bed dorm with a locker for my bag. Only euro 12.60, much cheaper than Venice.  It has a plug and a light next to my bed that is complete with sheets.  My room is called North America, bed 3.  After a quick post online to say that I am alive to family and Sara, I took off going this time without my

bag on my back and off to St. Pauls within the Walls.

15:50  Ok, so I have no idea where St. Pauls is so I continued onward to the Roman Ruins.  I walked through the Circus Maximus, now only grass and the shape of once an epic stadium.  Walking up the hill, I saw the Coliseum full of old Italian men dressed as gladiators looking for a euro or two to take a picture with you.  I stumbled upon a festival on Via dei Fori Imperiali, with the backdrop of Ancient Roma.  But the festival is “Giornata della sport a Roma!”  A giant event with all these exotic sports and games on the street from Ping Pong to Pole dancing, roller skates to boxing, fencing to mountain climbing.  I saw a Peruvian flute band playing Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence.  Haha protecting us from the “Furry Death!”  I am currently sitting near Piazza Venezia to the side of the giant monument to V. Emmanuel, the first leader of United Italy.

17:30 Sitting on stairs next to S. Angelo Bridge in front of the Castel S. Angelo, the Tevere’s rather timid compared to the Thames.  It looks like it has dropped a few meters since previous times.  With the large walls on either side to protect from flooding, it diminishes the River making it almost insignificant compared to the epic walls and city around.  I have walked to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.  I’m sad that I’m not surprised to find a McDonalds in front of the Pantheon.  There were great street performers in Piazza Navona.  Some lame, but funny, and old man with no teeth lip-singing to Pavaratti had gestures and all. 

20:05 Time check, Italy, has now jumped back an hour, and what was 9pm is now 8.  So crazy story.  I walk across the S. Angelo bridge and there is David Ingram with his family right on the River Tibur, taking pictures and hanging out near the Castle.  It was amazing, the whole family.  Melanye, Adam, Elise, and David.  They are spending the week in Rome, making day trips throughout Italy.  Well, not only was it good to talk to somebody, they invited me to dinner. We ate at a place a little north of the Vatican , close to where they are staying.  And it was one of, if not the best meals I have had.  Spaghetti with clams, calamari, mussels and other seafood. Oh, it was delicious, along with some artichoke dish afterwards.  To die for.  All of this was heaven sent from the Ingrams, along with a liter of wine, which has helped my aching feet.  Presently, I am sitting in Piazza Navona.  Oh, the man from the restaurant had opened up early for us and was very jolly.  He kept on pointing to a review of his restaurant from the LA Times.  “America! Si!”  This is a night to remember. It was such a relief to talk to someone body.  I was not looking forward to another day of not speaking. To converse is a powerful art and is needed to be happy.  David also promised when Sara comes to London, a meal maybe the 10th of December?  Here I am, in a rather beautiful city, a romantic city, at night when the couples come out, while I sit here and write in a journal.

26/10/09  11:01  Sitting at the Metro stop near St. Paul’s Basillica, I must say, after dinner last night , a nice shower where I found some shampoo in the shower, I am much refreshed having slept well and clean.  The Hostel was quite nice, I must say, the best one so far.  I just left St. Paul’s outside the walls, where Paul himself is buried.  Really an extraordinary building.  I am so glad Dad told me about it or else I would have never known.  It is rather outside the main center of Rome, a few stops down on the Metro. 

13:40  Sitting in Piazza del Popolo.  The final marathon is on!  There were a few things I need to see in the next 4 hours. I have passed through S. Ignazio and saw the epic ceiling.  I threw in my coin over the right shoulder into the Trevi Fountain.  I am wandering the streets of Rome, up and down the Great Imperial Street, Via del Corso. Now towards Spanish Steps and the “Bone Church”

16:40 Sitting on the Spanish Steps.  Ok, covered a lot of ground since.  I walked to the top of the hill near the Villa Borghese, where I could see the entirety of Roma.  I walked through the Spanish Steps on my way toward a few churches.  The thing is that churches close for the afternoon, not until 3 or 3:30 did some open. So after walking up the hills of Rome I waited. The first I saw was actually the other St. Pauls WITHIN the wall, not outside.  An American-Episcopalian Church near the Piazza della Republica.  I just wish I found the place on Sunday morning.  They had Hymnals 1982 and BCPs it was a breath of fresh Anglican Air!  I sent Dad a post card from the Basillica S. Pauls outside the walls thinking it was the one he was talking about.  HaHa, It will be funny when he reads it.  But I found it and I’m glad I did.  Onward to Santa Maria della Vittoria, where St. Theresa is being pleasured by an Angel.  And it seemed that the Angel was doing a pretty good job too.  A magnificent sculpture in a glorious Church.  And then to Santa Maria della  Immaculata Concizone.  In particular, the Cappiccini Crypt. This is a Crypt with the walls made of thousands of Monks Skulls and bones.  Arches out of spines. It was creepy, but fascinating.  Inside they had a phrase, “What you are now, we once were, what we are, you will be.”  Chills, I tell ya.  I couldn’t take pictures so look it up online.  Truly amazing and with that, I have completed my checklist of Rome.  I am supposed to meet Amber on the Spanish Steps at 6pm, but there has been day light savings and I’m not sure if Amber knows about it so I’ll be here at 5, just in case.  And at 7:56, I leave for Zurich start thinking in a more Dutch frame of mind.  I hope it’s not too cold, for I only have a hoodie.  Weather is forecasted at 50degrees F, which is bearable with just a sweater.  

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finally, VENICE!

Hey guys, so thanks to a wonderful girlfriend of mine, I have now the first part of my travels, a direct travel log through Europe. I might edit later but here it is. Part I: Venezia!

23/10/09 06:15 I have just boarded the airplane.  I am now on my way towards the floating city of Venice.  Presently I am working off of 1 hour of sleep.  I have packed very light bringing only small socks and underwear and 6 t-shirts.  I only have a hoodie for an extra layer, which will be fine in 70 degrees Fahrenheit Italy, but I will need to purchase an overcoat before I go north of the Alps.  Presently, there is a screaming child next to me very upset because they have to sit next to me, I conclude. Ah, the mother and child moved on to appease the child, Wundebar!  I boarded the airplane from the ground, up the stairs from a fold out door of the plane.  I felt an urge to hold two peace signs before entering the plane, but suppressed it.  Now to get a few hours of shuteye before a wonderful 2 days in Venice!
            07:00 Looking out the window, I see an amazing site.  Almost a model train set of London before sunrise, all the lights illuminating the streets I see tiny trains and tiny cars amidst the map of London and in the horizon, the sky is a spectrum of color, from deep blue to dark red with everything in between.  You can see all the populated areas in comparison to the one light in the middle of darkness.  No street is straight in the UK     and it is brilliant to see the twists and turns from above.  I can now see the outskirts of this island and can vaguely see the shape of England.  Just breath taking. 
            [09:15]  I am over the Alps and it as beautiful or more so than I expected. It is straight from Lord of the Rings, I expect to see the Torch from Gondor up on the top peaks.  I can see small villages on the top of mountains, which seem so close to me from here.  A plateau is passing me now, with maybe six houses on it. What it must be like to live there.  I can see the outline of the continent now and the edge of  the Alps leveling out to flat ground.  I cannot put in words how beautiful it is from up here.  I only hope I can take a picture later in the week.  The whites of the snow end in a perfect line with the atmosphere of the clouds.  I hate to get spiritual but the glory of God is sounding like a trumpet here.  Now to land in this fair country. 
            13:00 Venice, or Venezia is breathtaking.  I first arrive from the coach from Treviso near the rail station Santa Lucia, from there, walked to my hostel, which is in the end of a small street that has no signs.  The man inside seemed friendly enough and gave me my key and told me to come back at or after 2pm.  Now I start to wander.  A beautiful city with streets no wider than 4 feet anywhere.  I wandered through the canals towards Campo Rocco, Compo S. Polo and towards the famous bridge Ponto di Rialto.  Everywhere, anywhere there are Gondolas steered by men in straw hats and striped shirts.   The Gondola itself is quite a luxurious boat, with velvet seats and very detailed designs.  I found my way towards Piazza San Marco, where I first discovered the elevated walkways.  These platforms are everywhere because quite often, most of the streets flood up from the drains.  So platforms are constructed throughout the city.  Around this time, I have not eaten for almost 10 hours and am running on about 2 hours rest interrupted finding my way back across the Ponto di Rialto, I found a “cheap” vendor.  I purchased a Rotolo filled with Prociutto and it was absolutely delicious.  Nice and warm a magnificent texture. I was very sad when it was gone.  I mistakenly bought a coke which cost (euro) 2.50, an exorbitant amount of money but we learn and move on.  It really is amazing how the water level is the same as the street level at some points and for some hotels the only way in is by canal entrance.  A magical city.

15:00 Sitting at the hostel, trying to plan out and figure out this place.  I am developing a list of what I MUST SEE before I head to Roma.  As I contemplate this, I realize that like those first days in London, I will hardly talk this week, but rather write about what I think and share through this medium.  The man who runs the hostel is very nice and has given advice on where to go and what is cheap areas of Venice.  So far, no WiFi or at least, I haven’t figured it out yet.  I am excited to take a Vaparetto down the Canal Grande to see the epic sites. I am rather worried about funds because I only have (euro)74 right now and a credit card.  That will have to last me until Friday. 
            19:00 Back at the hostel, I have now walked for about 6 hours today on only 2 hours rest.  This city is full (of) twists and turns that even I get confused.  For example; I had just walked across the bridge, north to San Marco, and thought I was going across the Canal Grande further upstream and I was excited to use the Gondola Ferry, where they stuff a lot of people, standing in the middle of the gondola.  It was pretty cool, but it took me to where I walked away from a half hour ago.  Very frustrating. Now the restaurants are open again (siesta in afternoon), so I plan to go get that great Italian food somewhere.                         

24/10/09 11:05 Today is a new non-rainy day in Venezia and what I wanted to explore is the water.  I bought a 12 hour pass for the Vaparetto to see all the islands I could get my feet on.  And so, after (euro)16 and a Canal ride through the Canal Grande, I now sit in Lima, a southern island of Venezia that has planned streets and cars even!  Sitting on a bench on the water, I looked up to see the city in all her glory, but whats behind makes the picture.  The Alps in their white snow capped splendor provide the backdrop.  This Island, Lima, is where the real Venetians live.  There are more markets here, you can get around by car, less souvenir shops and more Italians!
            13:10  Well I’ve had 2 meals for under (euro)10.  I decided to sit down and collect my thoughts at GINOS for some Pizza Prociutto with some water to drink.  I have been to Piazza di S. Marco and realized it was a Saturday in Venice and so left for a later time.  Also the post office closed at 1 so I had to jump on the vaparetto and get to the post office on the other side of the city near the train station.  I made it by 2 minutes to 1 and sent 3 postcards.  Presently the restaurant that I am in is very close to the Jewish Ghetto I walked through yesterday.  It is an island of itself and has memoriams and large walls with barbed wire on top.  This is still a highly Jewish community to remind us of those who were tortured and killed in the second World War.  On another note, I need a new pen, a fine point, a ball point is making my writing hard to read.
13:40 Quick note: move to Italy just for the food! Exquisite Pizza made for Kings!

17:00 Venice has very little places to sit on the main island.  I have been hopping on and off the Vaparetto, really trying to milk the (euro)16 it cost me.   I had an interesting encounter with an Italian at the bag check for St. Marks Basillica. When I got my bag, I said, “Gracie” to the man.  He just stared at me, not smiling, and responded, “You’re welcome” as if saying, “don’t pretend to be Italian.  I know you are American, I can hear that accent anywhere, you don’t have the right to use my language.” [There was a bit of contempt in his voice.  I found two friends from Temple London in Piazza di S. Marco, and I planned to have dinner with them.  We are meeting at the Rialto at 6pm, because they stay in Lima and their last ferry is at 8:30.  It will be good to talk to someone for a change.  I took the Vaparetto to Murano, one of the islands north of here where they make glass. The most beautiful sculptures with different colors and shapes.  The entire island seemed to base their economy off of glass.   The boat back was wonderful with the Alps in the background and the blue of the sea. I never think I’d be able to see this sight.  It is a place of the imagination, almost. 

23:27 Well for some reason, I thought in my mind 23:30 meant 12:30, and by LUCK, I arrived on a  Vaparetto from Rialto 10 minutes before the train left.  I was in Piazza di S. Marco at 11, simply strolling along towards the rail station.  There I simply listened to the music of Venezia, while I watched couples dance and vendors sell roses to them.  This was a scene that is from movies.  Some couples just held each other and swayed.  Some had full dance steps.  I was so caught up in this amazing world of stars and love, that my mind just failed to grasp the 24 hour clock.  But here I am. In seat 96, coach 7 on the 771 to Roma in a compartment with 4 others.  A young couple, the girl, falling asleep on his arm while the boy is talking to what seems to be a friend or relative who sits across from them.  In front of me by the window, a man 50-60’s reading a book with untrimmed pages.  I recognize the inside poetry maybe Dante, as the lines are numbered.  For dinner tonight, I dined with Amber and Caitlen  We ate in S. Marco.  I had spaghetti with real clams.  Deliciosa!  We had a bottle of Red wine for drink and planned to meet in Roma at 6pm on Monday to have dinner again.  After dinner, I took them to a site that all need to see, the Jewish Ghetto, and at night it is truly remarkable.  A wall filled with memories of torture and evil, then on the square, children playing hide and seek, soccer and having fun.  Giving new birth to a new meaning of this Piazza.  I have fallen in love with this city at night.  Yesterday it was raining and I fell asleep at 9pm.  But tonight, I saw the stars above Venice.  Now to sleep and wake in Roma!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Hey, sorry about the lateness of this post, but this weekend was a fantastic one. Starting off with Guy Fawkes day, we all are retold the rhyme:

Remember, Remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot
I find no reason
why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot!

The fifth fell on a thursday this year, which means most of the celebrations of blowing up Catholics happens on the coming weekend, but there are a few fireworks going on the actual day.  A few of us went to Brixton to watch an awesome fireworks show...and it was exactly that...awesome. Throughout the night and continuing into the weekend, you hear store bought fireworks going off left and right. I didn't see any effigies being made or burned, but I am told that tradition is dying out. "A penny for guy" is a phrase that was once said by children trying to buy or get reimbursed for the dolls and effigies that they have created to celebrate. I had a pocket full of copper ready to hand out if needed, but alas, no child or even adult asked for a penny.

This weekend has also brought me to a small village called Hinxworth. I joined a program called HostUK which brings international students to live with a nice English family for the weekend. Taking a train from Kings Cross to Biggleswade, I was picked up by Dr. Adrian Lambourne and driven to his home which he shares with his wife in the small village that has a population of about 200. Hinxworth was a beautiful place, being able to see both sides of the town from the main road. There is a pub, a church, and a war memorial there alongside thatched roof cottages and cozy English homes. The Lambournes house was called 'Mole's End' and was highly interesting, with varying ceiling levels and dens that you crawl into at the top of the stairs. It turns out that like myself, they have done quite a bit of traveling and living abroad to Colombia, Jamaica and Oman, just to name a few. While enjoying great conversation about British politics and world society, they offered me drink after drink, leaving my lips never dry. This ranged from tea to coffee to wine to beer to whiskey to tea to coffee to coffee to tea and so on and so forth. I have never been so hydrated in my life!

The Saturday, Adrian took me along to erect a stage for a concert that evening that he was singing in. We went to a school to pick up supplies for an easily built stage. The church was in Stevenage and called "St. George and St. Andrews." A rather new church, the architecture was rather modern with arches on the inside holding up the roof that constantly reminded me of McDonalds. I was invited to sing in the rehearsal that afternoon, and if I held my own there, I might be able to sing in the concert. The program's centerpiece was the Faure's Requiem, which I have sung before and know well. The choir was about 90 persons of the 'older' variety and happy for me to lower the age average. Adrian had given me some spare music, and anything he did not have two of, we shared. We sang Bass I, or Baritone, which is very easy for me and I was invited back for the evening performance. The problem was I had no formal wear with me, only Jeans and some shirts. The Lambournes easily supplied me with a amazing tuxedo which fit me very well. I only had my hiking shoes but no one really saw my feet so it was fine. I think they had accidentally given me Adrian's suit though, so he had on a blue blazer and blue bow-tie instead of the classic black, but he didn't seem to mind. It was so great to sing in a choir again, since it is a rare chance for me to do so nowadays. I am so glad I was given that opportunity.

Sunday was actually quite remarkable. To continue with the Remembrance theme, It was Remembrance Sunday, with everyone wearing a poppy for the armed forces. We went to church at St. Nicholas, Hinxworth, where almost the entire village goes. And if you don't, there are questions on to where you are instead of church! A very old church, in the middle of a green pasture surrounded by a wall, with graves everywhere. It is quite beautiful. Five or six men are ringing the bells inside, you can see them behind the organ pulling away. It is rather fascinating, since they do it for almost a half hour, in a pattern to get the different tones in a scale sort of way. The service was one of the most moving I have ever been to. It was so intimate in a way that I have never felt. Everyone knowing who I was, or wondering who I was, since I was a new face was so refreshing compared to the granger of Westminster Abbey or St. Pauls. In the prayers of the People, The usher who was reading them, i have forgotten his name, but wearing all the medals from his war experiences, he broke down when trying to read of the names of the departed or lost from the war effort. Another man took it over and finished the prayers when we saw him struggle. Deeply moving on such an important Sunday. As a parish, we all walked down to the War Memorial, which was basically the back yard of Mole End, and as the clock struck 11, the names of those lost from the town of Hinxworth were read and a wreath was placed. Suddenly 'God Save the Queen' was sung by all and a prayer was said to conclude the ceremony. This was all followed by coffee at the pub.

A great slice of English life. I really cant thank the Lambournes enough for their hospitality and conversation.

So only a few more weeks left here as the countdown to December ticks away. A fantastic girlfriend of mine is transcribing my travel journal of Europe for me since it seems she can read my handwriting better than I can, so look out for that in coming days. Pictures are up on Picasa of all of Europe if you haven't checked them out!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tea with Tony Benn

Hey all, so before I get to the long and epic journey through europe, I had to talk about my experience today. My mother's friend Ken Leech gave me the information of Tony Benn, a former MP who retired from parliament in 2001, so he could "pay more attention to politics." I phoned him today around 12:45 asking if he could spare a half an hour to talk about Socialism. He said that I should come by later today. So I did. He lives in Notting Hill Gate, not too far down the road from where I am located with a white picket fence and a red door. Very quaint house. His daughter answered the door, and told me to come right in. She was so kind. Tony had forgotten he had an interview with a journalist from the Guardian this afternoon, so she told me to come and and wait a little bit, offered me some tea. The kitchen was very small, connected to the living room and the dining room, nothing fancy at all about the place, clutter her and there. But on the walls there was William Morris wallpaper, both in the hallway and the kitchen. Already, I like this guy. His daughter was leaving soon, had to "go be a mummy, attend to my children." But she said that he is rather tired and "If he falls asleep, don't worry. Just put your cup in the sink and let yourself out. He probably wont, but just in case he does." She made me a cup of tea while I waited. the Reporter from the guardian was going saying how wonderful his family is, how political they are and how Tony doesn't force his beliefs on them. How they have the ability to disagree and no urge to agree just because of blood relation. Also, how that the whole family was interested in Politics and how hard that is to have younger generations follow careers of their parents.
His daughter and the reporter left. She said her goodbye to her father and Tony and I sat down. I started to talk about why I was talking to him, as an American fascinated by the UK socialist ideals and the power of the people in such a democracy. He is the premier socialist of the UK. He started talking about the origins of socialism, saying that democracy was the best thing so far for it. The most important thing in the word is the vote! He is not and never has been a part of the New Labor party, he is a member of the Labor party, before Tony Blair. Blair changed it by adapting the economical ideals of Thatcher because that was the only way to get elected. he says that the New Labor is not a socialist party, nor a working class party. His party was never in power, because power is always controlled by the rich. "if you're rich, it's easy to get power, and if you have you're powerful, it's easy to get money."
He said that it is about Justice is what it's all about. The right to justice is for all. That word really sums up socialist ideals. The injustice given to the poor based upon their social status needs to be justified. It was hard to ask more questions about his ideals because I had a hard time disagreeing with them. I kept saying things in hope that they were questions but they came across as statements. I just kept asking how is it is possible to have such a government invested highly in health and well being of their people, while the US constitution is a much more democratic, but is bought off by lobbyists and the rich.
Socialism cannot be put together by force, it cannot be forced upon the people, or it becomes a dictatorship. "Socialism comes hand in hand with democracy."
After  a while he asked about my parents being priests, he was intrigued and a large supporter of women priests. His ideas of religion is that he uses the bible to understand society and help democracy. To listen to the prophet before the kings. He has some great lines where I have read elsewhere such as, "When you think of the number of men in the world who hate each other, why, when two men love each other, does the church split?" He said about how Thatcher said her greatest achievement was New Labor. And "The Labor Party is not a socialist party, but it has socialists in it, just as there are some Christians in the church."

This really was a fantastic experience. I felt so at home in this atmosphere, being raised, just as the reporter said, with open minds. The clutter everywhere, William Morris wallpaper, and the ideals of social justice. After I had asked my questions, he wanted to know more about me, about my parents. He has been known to listen, constantly listening, no matter how deaf. He talked about Women priests just got the right about 10 years ago in the UK, and is avid supporter of women's rights. I told him about our family quarrels with Bishops and strong women being suppressed by the church. "The use of religion, listening to the pope, or you have to go to war, is not a democratic idea."

He ended with "Have confidence in yourself, thats the main thing." Great man. If you don't know how he is, look him up, If you have seen Sicko, he was interviewed by Michel Moore in that about the NHS.
He game me the information of a member on the other side of the argument, Lord Norman Tebbitt, and said to say that Tony Benn gave you the number, so i can get the Tory  side of Socialism. Because I agreed too much with Tony, it was hard to question him.