24 February 2010


IIII ) llllll Arduous (21Feb10)

2340 Good thing we got ourselves up naturally, because the wake-up call we asked of the pepto-bismol vomit, one-key, all-too-hot, no internet hotel never happened. Surprisingly enough though, we have really enjoyed sleeping on a very firm mattress

0242 We've just crossed the river that separates Scotland from England, and now it's started snowing. I'm sure there are some great adventures awaiting us in Oxford, London, and Paris, but Scotland had a special feel to it. My intuition says that Mahoney and I came along on this journey for some good reason. Can't guess at all what it might be as yet, and maybe we won't find out for a few years to come. Usually that's the way it works. But there's something there, we'll just have to wait for it to reveal itself

0408 As we close in on York, Ali regails us with lessons about the vikings who gave the city its name. Apparently, they did not have big Hagar the Horrible spikes or horns on their helmets. Ali's mother comes from York, and her grandfather ran a stagecoach business there. Certain privileges from this position have carried down to Ali today, including having the run of the town, so she can rightfully run pigs or sheep through the city

0429 At York station, there's a broke-down train and all its passengers climb aboard our already full train. Mahoney says I should scoot over to let a woman and her daughter sit next to us. Lucky thing we have the inflatable wheelchair seat to counter the hard plastic lump under me. There's someone standing alone on one of the platforms. Ali suggests it's a "trainspotter" - apparently, they're like bird watchers over here, people who watch for certain trains to pass. Very strange, that sounds about as exciting as watching someone swat a ball or puck around for a couple hours

0613 The Queen has claimed ownership of all swans in England. So it's an offense for anyone else to bother them, but the Queen herself may eat them on occasion, and from the sounds of it she does so once a year

0825 Damn good thing I'd mentally prepared myself for an arduous day. Just finished making our way through London, and I can say with some conviction that I have no interest in this city whatsoever. Compared to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, this place is simply modern and dirty. I had a whole different image of London in the atlas of my mind. And even looking upon the outlying towns and cities, the red brick houses appear sloppy and unimaginative by comparison with the grey stone of Scotland. We have apparently been spoiled

0852 We are on the train to Oxford, and from our first class seats up front we can hear the conductor talking to his dispatch. There's something wrong with our train. From the sounds of it, the gears aren't switching properly. Each time the train stops, the driver has to put it into reverse before moving it into a normal gear, otherwise he can't get it in at all. It would not surprise me if we broke down along the route somewhere. But today I'm ready for anything

1040 Okay, if you must come to England, Oxford is one of the places worth visiting. This is a very nice city with an old academy flavor. On the walk from the train station to our lodging, we saw many vestiges of rock-work similar to that we were enjoying in Scotland. Everything exciting appears to be within walking distance of The Old Parsonage, where we're staying. And the building itself reflects architecture of the city - an old stone facade, brick-work further back, and more modern stucco wings. We are sleeping in the oldest part of the hotel, in a lovely little loft, located up two very narrow, winding staircases, and through a Mahoney-sized door, with windows looking out over gardens and the graveyard of the St Giles' Church, with just a dozen or so headstones so old and eroded the inscriptions cannot even be read

1150 We met up with Laura Peers and her husband in the lobby of the Parsonage, and she gave Ki'naksaapo'p and I brief directions toward dining and site-seeing locations, before whisking Ali away (probably a rescue at this point). Mahoney had ordered tea, so we sat a bit in the lobby while Ki'naksaapo'p and Alvine walked to find a restaurant. When we eventually went that way ourselves, we found Strada, Italian with a set two course dinner menu. We ate bruschetta and magnificent spaghetti, and when the waiter brought La Santuzza rosso he executed some fancy moves and offered me a taste before pouring each of our glasses and leaving the bottle on the table

1233 I feel like I have a massive linguistic deficit here. Not that my vocabulary's inadequate. The problem is more one of practice. I flex my language skills on occasion while writing. When talking, on the other hand, I'm comfortable with a largely slang dialect. But I overhear children speaking here and it makes me embarrassed, how articulate they are

0351 This place is wonderfully crooked. Normally, I like to have everything at right angles, and now I think it's likely because the architecture itself is set at an unimaginative ninety degrees. But the Old Parsonage was built of stone only roughly shaped. The plaster that now covers these stones inside retain trace lumps that betray what lays beneath. There is not a careful angle in the place, no door that sits proper in its frame. The old wood floors creek, and there are surprise steps to watch out for. Twice already I've conked my noggin in this dwarf environment. I feel like the whole room is set at a tilt

0359 Mahoney readied a hot bath for me in what is definitely our greatest tub yet for the journey. It is a deep and long basin that even I can stretch out in. Mahoney set the temperature to scalding hot... so brutal, even the ceilings and walls started to cry. I loved it. Basked and sang in it. I focused all my thoughts on home

IIII ) lllllll Avery (22Feb10)

0051 Well, here we are, our first morning in Oxford, and it's snowing like crazy. Big heavy flakes, already making the walkways slippery. We had made arrangements with a driver to take us out to Stonehenge, but whether that plan carries forward or not is now uncertain. Either way, I'm sure we'll find an adventure of some kind to get into today

0345 We are in a van, driving through sleet on our way to Stonehenge. When asked about the road conditions, our driver Clive reports, "About twenty foot wide and flat"

0442 At Stonehenge now. As we came over around the bend and its structure moved into view, Clive advised us, "Mind you, it's not finished yet"

0623 It was drizzly, windy and cold as we made our way around the stones. A wormy day, as Mahoney and I would say. I hadn't known that Stonehenge is associated with so many burials. There are several mounds on the fields surrounding the site, and Laura tells us that fully suited children had been found buried at excavations of some of the fallen stones. To me, what was most enjoyable about the place were the little wagtails occasionally underfoot, and the jackdaws that nest in the gaps between pillar and mantle stones

0629 After Stonehenge, we started for home along a route that would take us on a side-excursion to another stone circle at Avery. There were homes with thatch roofs in many of the towns and villages we passed through along the way. I guess these thatch-roof houses are a big attraction for some tourists. Locally, Laura tells us, there is a thatcher who gathered seeds from some roofs that were several hundreds of years old. These he has managed to regrow, feeding an effort to revitalize the use of original wheats for both thatch and food that have been displaced by the adoption of certain industrial agricultural standards

0738 The Avery circles, to me, had a stronger presence than Stonehenge. They too are surrounded at a great distance by mounds, one of which is exceptionally large, an artificial hill. It amazes me the arrogance that would justify construction of a paved road and half a town right through the middle of the circles. I walked around taking photographs of not only the stones, but also the birds and lichens who reside here. At one point, I clearly saw a large recumbant stone set between two pillars, but after crossing the road and walking into the field to get a photograph, it completely disappeared. I was sure I had seen it clear as day. Then later, after a brief warm-up in the local pub, pulling out of town again and watching the line as we passed, I was pleased to see the recumbant reappear... turns out it can only be seen as such at a particular angle

0930 During our return expedition from the ancient sites, it became clear that everyone was exhausted. Mahoney had been particularly tired all day, perhaps never having regained full strength after yesterday's travel. Laura and Drew had invited us to a dinner at their home, but first we needed to find out if a little rest would aid in recouperation

0945 While Mahoney rested, I set off on foot. My first mission was to send off another box of souvineers to meet us at home. So I ran down to the post office, then back to the room for packing tape, then back to the post office again to weigh it, then back to the room again to unload half a kilo and retape, then once more to the post office where they finally accepted the box, and lastly to the room with a sweet dessert for Mahoney, snatched from the nearby bakery. They sell crazy goodies here, in all the bright pinks and yellows shown in the Harry Potter movies. Imagining this aesthetic was not an incredible artistic feat on Rowling's part

1030 Having done my chores, I hit the streets to explore some of the college campuses of Oxford, taking plenty of photographs enroute. Everything is grand, yet really not all that appealing to me. I preferred the country-side, its forests, mysterious stone circles, and old burial mounds. What has fascinated me, walking around Oxford, are the bikes. Many students and profs cycle for transportation, and most seem to use old-fashioned ten-speeds. They leave these bikes resting unlocked along the rock walls outside the college buildings, and I'm surprised that thieves don't whisk them away

1235 When I returned to the Parsonage again, after it got too dark to take photos on the street, Mahoney was feeling well enough to go to Laura and Drew's for dinner. We brought a small bag of laundry along, since an invitation in that regard had been offered. Laura served beef stew on mashed potatoes, followed by fruit salad, and finally hot chocolate

1508 Back at the Parsonage for the night, working on photo editing and a grant application, hoping to hit the sack before midnight, because we expect another long day tomorrow going through the Pitt Rivers Museum and seeing some local sites of interest. Our dinner visit was very enjoyable. Laura has an admirable little garden behind her house. Most impressive were the roses that she's grown at least twice my height, vining into the canopy of a plum tree

IIII ) llllllll Pitt Rivers (23Feb10)

0129 up, UP and Awake for our last full day at Oxford. Seems fitting that Tolkien should have lived here because, like his epic novels, our journey seems to be stretching on well past its natural conclusion. I think yesterday's visit to the ancient sites in the country-side established good closure for me, yet we still have... Paris to go. What a great adventure this trip has been

0251 We're at the combined complex of the Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford and Pitt Rivers Museum... Omg is this place ever amazing. I've been in ALL of North America's most famous collection institutions, but they pale by comparison. This is the home of the last dodo bird, it's the place where Darwin's ideas were debated and entered into the canons of accepted European knowledge, there are sculptures atop the columns of Natural History that represent every plant phylla on Earth, and the Pitt Rivers Museum is still largely as it was a century ago, a massive clutter of curiosities. Everything is set in the old display cases, with objects from all over the world organized by technology type. Obviously, there's a dark socio-evolutionary agenda behind this arrangement, but it is very much what cultural museums of Europe were historically about, the metric, and samples from the local region is not excluded in cabinets displaying sympathetic magic and the like. I'm pleased to see museum history itself maintained here, not hidden behind the mask of innocent public education

0516 After much wandering in the two museum halls, amidst uniformed school children with sketching assignments, and with Mahoney taking about a million pictures, not to mention prying up the floor tiles in search of secret chambers, we make our way to The King's Arms pub. Another round of fish and chips for me, steak and ale pie for Mahoney and Ali... See More. We had hot apple pie with liquid custard for dessert. The crust was thick with shortening, it was soooo, sooooo good. I don't know of Paul Raczka's pie on ice cream at the Choteau Log Cabin will ever have the same appeal again

0734 Our next stop, hustling along under sleeting skies through the Oxford streets, was Christ Church, with its Great Hall now made famous through the Harry Potter movies. The Hall was closed when we arrived, they were serving lunch. So we walked into their cathedral to kill time. Of course, the cathedral itself was quite a sight, and we took some photographs, but as soon as we could it was back to the Great Hall to snap images familiar to us through the films

0907 The whirlwind spins full circle, and we make our way back again to the Pitt Rivers Museum, where conservationists have made accessible two of the Blackfoot shirts that will be traveling to Mohkinsstsis in the next month or so. Among the quillwork there is a certain dark brown plant fiber that has been used in place of quills. This plant is unidentified, so I take several macro shots of it to work with back home

0907 Our stay with the shirts is very short, and then Ki'naksaapo'p is off to give a lecture, while Mahoney and I return to the hotel to drop off our camera bags, change out of wet clothes, and get ready to head downtown. I have no idea what for, I guess just to take a look at the shops

1349 We've just returned from a French dinner hosted by Laura and Drew, a wonderful meal to conclude our visit to Oxford. Unfortunately, we had to say our farewells to Ali, whom we've grown attached to over the past ten days or so. Aapinako'si we're on our own to Paris. Tonight Mahoney and I get in a Lush bubble-bath and pack for the journey

1541 Total count of my head-bonks on the Mahoney-sized doorway so far: five

1736 Mahoney's sleeping, and kind of snoring a little now and then. She's been so cute on this trip, promoting the BDL project, bragging me up whenever someone would listen, shopping for everyone back home, and getting excited about our Scottish connection. Its been so nice to share this experience with her. She's a very be...autiful woman, and I'm lucky to be her husband

1824 Got a wake-up call coming in five hours, our que to move on to Paris. Time to catch some Zzzzs