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Guns & Gators

June 6, 2010

As Savannah, Georgia bears the moniker “The Hostess City of the South” I thought it would be an excellent place to begin seeking accommodation through the website www.couchsurfing.org. Up until this point I’d been exploiting the relative comforts of staying with friends of friends of friends but I felt I had reached the point in my trip where self-imposed boundaries had to be tested and what better way than to stay on the couches of complete strangers. So now picture me, a fledgling couchsurfer, with all my worldly possessions laden on my back, walking the final block to a new alien destination, when alongside me rolls a local police car with “protect and serve” emblazoned along the side:

“What y’all doing?” drawled the copper.

“Oh hello officer, I’m staying just up the road with a friend” I chirpily responded, veritably oozing British charm.

“Y’all not from round here are you?”

“Um, no.”

“Well this is not a nice neighbourhood” he maliciously mumbled…and then with no further adieu he promptly drove off leaving me feeling no safer and utterly terrified. So having now had the surrounding war zone brought to my attention, I scuttled onwards to my final destination, just waiting to be mown down by the next neighbourhood drive-by. When I eventually reached the house of my host I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t inhabited by a den of murderers & thieves, but the next worse thing…a coven of student radio djs.

So two hours or so later after introductions and flat orientation I found myself out on the balcony drinking Miller High Life (the ‘Champagne of Beers’), chewing the fat with my hostess Myrriah, and listening to two rockabilly musicians who were at the house jamming. This perfect Savannah scene was only made complete when four gunshots from down our street shattered the dulcit tones of Hank Williams that had previously filled the night air. For Savannah may be ‘The Hostess City of the South”, but, for all her picturesque town squares and southern charm, this pretty lady has a dirty hem to her skirt. So someone in the neighbourhood having promptly been pumped full of lead my second cop car of the evening rolled up and hailed us up on the balcony:

‘Y’all guys hear any gun-shots up in here?’

“Sorry officer, but we thought they were fireworks” came the universal response. Lesson no.1 in Savannah: ‘Thou shall not snitch’. Other examples of native colour include the top quality of ‘crazies’ in Savannah such as the man who always dresses in the replica garb of Forest Gump – tucked in and top-buttoned shirt, chinos, briefcase, gump haircut and all. It is a city after my own heart.

So back to the balcony I would like to introduce you to my very first Texan on the trip, Zak, who hosts the ‘Real Country’ show on Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) Radio. With a Mark Kermode-esque quiff and chops combination, cowboy boots, a self-proclaimed spiritual link with Hank Williams Jr, and a hankering  for Lone Star beer and Jim Bean whiskey, he was everything you could possibly want from a Texan. I would like to relate to y’all a story Zak told me about his most memorable drink of whiskey ever…a story that took him a full hour but I will try to relate in a paragraph:

So Zak’s grandfather was a very old and very sick man who seemed to be on his last legs as far as this world is concerned. Now his grandpappy’s dream was that the family house, which was looking as old and worn as he, could be returned to its previous glory before he kicked the proverbial bucket. Zak, being a true Texan family man whose Grandfather played an essential role in his upbringing, decided to take this mammoth task upon himself and began the renovation process single-handed. Now Zak’s shaggy-dog story was padded out around this point as he took us through all the minute details of his work: clearing away endless brush (a true Texan pastime), scrubbing and re-varnishing the porch, and other various facets of home-improvement. Throughout all of this strenuous labour the Old Man watched from his mobility scooter and consistently criticised every aspect of the project: ‘I dunno whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt y’all bin taking so long’. And long did this continue until finally Zak broke down and said to his Grandfather that he couldn’t make it no better and this was as good as it was going to git. Silence ensued. Slowly the Old Man wheeled his scooter up onto the porch and then stubbornly lifted his frail body into his favourite chair. When he was settled he beckoned Zak to come and sit alongside him before breaking the desert still with a holler to the Old Lady inside:

“Arleeeene. Go git me the good shiiiit.”

Out came Grandma with a bottle of Jim Bean Blue label (which is almost $200 a bottle and many believe does not exist) and poured two tumblers. It was the best dram of whiskey Zak ever had. I was almost in tears by the end of the story and you could have cut through the balcony atmosphere as if it was a Paula Deen Gooey Butter Cake.

So from Savannah I moved along again to Gainesville, or “Gatorland”, in Florida to meet up with Daniela who was the first host on this trip that I had actually met before. I first met Daniela in a hostel in Montreal, Canada where I was staying with 21 other men on a University Rugby Tour. Little D was a young arts student travelling alone and struck lucky when she strolled upon our boisterous crowd. For the next week she pretty much became our mascot coming to watch all our games, engaging in the heavy drinking, and changing hostels with us when we got kicked out for bad behaviour. So it was exciting that here I was two years later to see what sort of psychological damage was still visible from those heady days.

First day in Gainesville myself, Little D, and her friend Leah went trailing through the swampy landscape to try and set up my first Man vs Beast moment with an Alligator. It seemed as well that we had found the perfect candidate for me to initiate a death roll with when we met the photographer Chuck Littlewood on the trail and he told us of the legend of “McNasty”, a particularly aggressive alligator who torments tourists by hanging around next to the viewing post. Unfortunately on that day McNasty didn’t rear his ugly head…however in the epic battle between man and reptile I felt that I gained a minor victory after I had alligator tacos for lunch. It was in Gainesville as well that I first learnt how to really holler down women on the street from out of car windows. One of D’s friends Danny is a self-proclaimed alpha male who took me under his wing and taught me the mantra of “Hey Gurl” as we drove around the sunny University of Florida. Unfortunately our cat-calls of “Shake your money maker” and “Get in Bebe”, alongside the usually flawless “Hey Gurl” holla, didn’t actually obtain us any women on these fishing trips, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up since.

The final notable story from Gainesville is probably my most life-changing. Over-hung from a night of graduation celebrations and stuffed full of baby-sized breakfast burritos, Little D’s boyfriend Chisum, my second Texan on this trip who is named after his family’s ranch, decided it was about time on my journey that I went and shot a gun. An hour or so later Chisum’s friend arrived with a trunk-load of guns and ammo, because of course every true Texan knows at least one person with a gun and one person with a truck. The trunk was opened and we weighed the cold and heavy weapons in our hands as if we were Cuban revolutionaries before moving swiftly and excitedly on towards the shooting range. As we drove into the range there was an isolated, bullet-riddled oil barrel just burning in the parking lot…of course. Inside all we had to do was hand over our driver’s licenses, which weren’t really checked, and from there we could take whatever guns and ammo we wanted, nor did we really have any supervision once inside. One of the guns that you could have rented behind the counter was called “The Judge” a handbag-sized gun which could be loaded with shotgun shells. An imaginary scream of “Y’all been judged” rang through the air.

 So I wish I could tell you what calibre weapon I shot, or even describe the make to you, but the adrenalin has hazed my memory and I only now know the weapon as “The Mule”. It was a huge Dirty Harry hand cannon upon which I had no control…because of course it kicked…like a mule. Our target is notable as well as we were using ‘hostage situation’ targets where you had to shoot the two black silhouettes who were either side of the victim. First shot I took…straight through the victim’s mouth. My weapon theory was similar to that of Keanu Reeves when he shoots his partner in the leg in the film Speed to save him from, RIP, Dennis Hopper. Except I would have shot him in the mouth. Anyway safe to say it was a pretty intense experience and I will almost certainly shoot again.

So I hope this has been worth the wait and I will try and get onto another blog asap. However my present movements around the country have been as swift as shit through a goose so please make some allowances. In the past week I have been to about 5 0r 6 places…including a 2 day excursion to the Grand Canyon. So lay off Dad…alright?

 

 

Oh Carolina

May 19, 2010

Oh Carolina is a gurl / she dey pon top of di world / and now she rock er body / anna move just like a squirrel (Shaggy – circa 1993).

The Greyhound journey from Charlottesville to Asheville, North Carolina was a fairly atypical one. The bus managed to overshoot a turn for the station at Winston-Salem, NC (where we were stopping for our obligatory McDonald’s lunch break) and rather than work out any sensible way to get back to our destination the driver decided that a huge 12 point turn on a busy road was what we needed. I was flattered as well when he chose yours truly to get out of the bus and co-ordinate this mammoth manoeuvre. Amid a fanfare of car-horns I apologetically flagged down vehicles as me and the Yankee Stan Butler conducted the most ridiculous 20 minute “to me to you” operation. And we didn’t even get a McDonald’s…we had to eat at Wendy’s instead.

So I eventually arrived in Asheville at around the same time as the Obama family who had come to this Appalachian idyll to spend their Spring Break. Oba-mania was rife: all the town’s eateries had signs up saying “Presidents eat here free”, people camped for days outside his hotel and the golf course just to get a whiff of the ‘yes we can’ man, and heavy bets were laid down on which restaurant he’d visit this time round (it was the barbeque joint 12 bones where the POTUS and FLOTUS dined on ribs, mac & cheese, corn bread, beans & collard greens followed by a rigorous mountain hike). It is unlikely that anyone in Britain has ever heard of Asheville so I’ll see if I can swiftly explain why both the President and Tom Brown chose “The Land of the Sky” for our holidaying.

Asheville is a veritable hippy utopia. Nestled among the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains it is inhabited by a huge alternative community of artists, musicians, mystics, hikers, crunchies, kayakers, eco-friendlies, tree-huggers, and hipsters. Think Camden Town with mountains. The “quality of life” in Asheville is so much better than that of standard American cities (for example in Dallas, where I am blogging from, you can visibly see the pollution on the horizon) with hiking trails on your doorstep, the most amount of microbreweries per capita in the States, great organic produce (the quality of meat in most American supermarkets is just woeful), low crime rates, one of the best gig venues in America etc… etc… My only one gripe with Asheville is that it’s a little bit too perfect: everyone in Asheville is so “happy”. I need a heavy smacking of old British misery everyday in order to survive.

All the same I was beginning to feel really comfortable in Asheville (my host Tiffany & her posse were great…and it still remains one of my favorite stops on this trip) and had started to set down roots when I suddenly found myself back on the road again. I was lying in my pit hungover from a day of mountain air and a night of heavy drinking when I was woken up by an unknown figure looming over me:

“Tom, hey Tom. I hear you want to go to Charleston. We leave in an hour.”

Alex, who had come to Asheville for the weekend, had heard by chance that a British traveller was looking for somewhere to stay in Charleston and so he was now here to pick me up. I’m not a spiritual or mystical person but after two days in Asheville even I found myself nodding along philosophically with Alex when he said: “The Universe often works in beautiful ways”. So we upped sticks, said our brief good-byes and four hours later I was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Chucktown, the “best-mannered city” in the U.S., is renowned for its antebellum architecture, steeple-dotted skyline, and its southern cuisine (I would highly recommend shrimp, grits & a biscuit at the Hominy Grill if you ever swing by). My standout memory of Charleston was an at dusk amble around the old city with Alex my host where we meandered away from rainbow row and the tourist trappings and ducked into the umbrageous gateway walk (a secret, moss-draped pathway that joins the main graveyards of the city). A plaque on the entrance gate encapsulates the spirit of this verdant hidden pathway:

Through hand wrought gates

alluring paths lead on to pleasant places,

where ghosts of long forgotten things

have left elusive traces.

My guide had a very tactile (almost Ashevillian) approach to his surroundings and as we walked he would have me pick and inhale the cities abundance of wild rosemary and feel the petals of the silken graveyard flowers. This notable ramble is rivalled only by the drunken walk home I had with my host Tiffany in Asheville where we continually stopped to “listen to the trees”. I’m an old Wordsworthian, “she dwelt among untrodden ways”, kind-of-guy at heart so although I am being slightly glib here about my tree-hugging hosts I do wish sometimes I was more able to throw off my city sensibilities and hold communion with nature in this way. But I’m a gnarled cynical old Londoner now so it’s too late for me…I can’t cope with too much Idyll without a smattering of grit and grime. Savannah, GA my next stop on this trip, which was once described to me as “a pretty lady with a dirty face”, with it’s beautiful city squares and night-time vollies of gunfire, was much more up my street. 

So I’m trying to gradually catch up with the present day for this blog…I’m just about to hit Austin, TX and between there and Charleston there are a good 8 stops to write about. So be patient and I will try my hardest to update this as soon as possible.

Digression on “The Accent”

May 11, 2010

Many people from home have asked me what effect the English accent has on Americans: ‘Do American girls’ eyes glaze over in instant infatuation?’, ‘Does the accent give you an air of intellectual authority and suavity?’, ‘Do people ask you inane questions about Harry Potter?’ The answer to all the above is yes. I am very lucky that due to my itinerant childhood as an army child I have shunned any regional twangs and am left with that middle-of-the-road BBC accent that all American’s desire from an Englishman. I am also becoming increasingly pucker and deliberately flood my speech with quaint anglicisms such as ‘bloody hell’, ‘totty’, and ‘codswallop’.

However the main reaction I seem to get whenever I let forth my dulcet tones is one of utter confusion. I had a mystical conversation with an old man on a bench outside a Greyhound Station in Lake City, Florida (i.e. the middle of nowhere) which went like this:

Old Man: ‘Hey boy…y’all from Gainesville?’

Me: ‘No’

‘Y’all from Jacksonville?’

‘No…I’m from England’

‘New England?’

‘No…the United Kingdom’

(Look of complete blankness accompanied with a long pause)

‘You born and raised in England?’

‘Yes’

‘Good’

And then we both carried on looking straight ahead and didn’t say another word to each other. His was the first but not the last face I observed that look of blankness upon…even slightly more intelligent folk become too embarrassed to ask me whether I’m from England or Australia…and there is bollocks all chance that anyone here has a clue where Bristol is.  I’ve found as well that if there are any fights or disturbances on the Greyhound Bus if I start speaking to calm things down people are so thrown for a loop by my voice that any aggression immediately dissipates. They probably think I have the power to have them taken away and beheaded.

On another occasion I was in a supermarket in Virginia trying to buy alcohol when I was asked for my ID. Upon presenting my British Driver’s License to the cashier all hell broke loose. It wasn’t long before five or six managers descended upon us, passing my ID between themselves, and leafing through their extensive catalogue of American driver’s licenses. I tried to explain to them that they would struggle to find my license on their file, not even in the New England section which they had inevitably turned to first, because I was from overseas. Finally the head head honcho came down to tell me that State Law prohibits them accepting any foreign identification for purchasing alcohol…of course. In this same supermarket my host Kyle asked sincerely whether we had developed self-checkout in our country yet…

And at this time of huge political upheaval and change back home in Britain I hope everyone there understands that no-one here, including the majority of my intelligent peers, has any idea that we have recently had a historic election…and nobody cares. Over here those who have actually heard of our country still know it as ‘Jolly Old Britain’ and think that London is still ‘foggy’. The only evidence I’ve seen in the South of any global-mindedness is that one of the most popular t-shirt slogans is: ‘Texas is bigger than France”. I much prefer living on a small island.

East Coast Extracts

May 11, 2010

5) Virginia is for Slavers.

Only the week before I arrived in Richmond, the  Governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell, declared that April would be Confederate History Month and issued a seven paragraph proclamation which called for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” What Gov. Bob forgot to mention in any of his seven paragraphs was the word “Slavery”, giving precedence instead to “State’s Rights” as the issue that led to the secession of the Confederate states. His ill-judged comments led to political satirist Stephen Colbert, who apes the character of an ultra-conservative political pundit on his show, commenting that the State of Virginia is entirely right to be proud of its chequered past. Instead of: “Virginia is for Lovers” as the state motto, Colbert asks why not: “Virginia is for Slavers”?

“What up my Slava?” I hollered at my new host Margot Stegmaier as she picked me up from Richmond Greyhound station. As a Confederate tour guide for the city this joke fell on stony ground with old Margot. Only joking…in fact Margey was one of my biggest hosting coups on the trip as I had somehow blagged my own personal tour guide for the Capital of the Confederacy. It is not many people in the world that know, except true Virginians and Margot (a State import), that the pedestal on which the statue of Robert E Lee sits on Monument Avenue is deliberately an inch or so higher than that pedestal upon which Washington’s statue is mounted in the Capitol.

I think my favourite thing about Virginia is the State flag which depicts Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, running an effigy of King George III through with a spear (see picture above). There is a hefty bout of Britain-bashing in American museums which is so amusing to me as a lofty Brit who has been telling all the Yanks that we don’t even really study the Revolutionary War in schools. They are a very very young country compared to us and one feels they still have a lot to learn.

Anyway soon I moved on from the family comforts and dinner-time prayers of the Stegmaier household straight back to student squalor and the heavy lash at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In Charlottesville I stayed with Kyle Steinhouse and his harem. Kyle played surrogate boyfriend to my housemate Westy’s girlfriend when they were studying abroad together in Australia…nudge nudge wink wink. The University was designed by founding father Thomas Jefferson and veritably teems with tradition and wealthy sorority girls…nudge nudge wink wink.

My old UCL rugby compatriots would love UVA as it is a University swamped in tradition and ‘secret societies’. The most famous secret society is the 7 society who seem to pretty much bankroll the university and have peppered the campus with their symbol (see below). Members of the Seven are only revealed after their death, when a wreath of black magnolias in the shape of a “7” is placed at the gravesite, and the bell tower of the University Chapel chimes at seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord when it is seven past the hour. For more on the Seven Society check out this list of its pranks and hefty donations (http://scripta.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-textwg/cavdaily.pl?str=seven%20society&offset=4932743&fileid=19680207). This society is just one of many active secret societies including the Z Society, IMP, T.I.L.K.A, and Eli Banana all of which are over 100 years old. There is one secret society where the members dress up like devils and just appear every so often on campus where they begin to poke and attack students with pitchforks. Nothing quite as dark as UCL’s “Lambs to the Slaughter” initiation but definitely giving us a run for our money. Next stop: Asheville, North Carolina.

Double Down

May 7, 2010

To commemorate the end of my first month in America (and because my mother recently threatened me on facebook with the words “no blog, no money”) I thought I’d re-open my blog with a quick note on a monstrous phenomenon that has recently swept the States. The fast-food leviathan I am about to talk about has quickly become my own great white whale, inhabiting all my waking thoughts and  dreams. I first heard rumors of the beast on the billboards at JFK airport and since then it (or maybe even he) has been an ever-present force in my life. At first I thought that the defining moment of my trip would come down to a life-or-death battle with one of America’s grand predators such as a grizzly bear or crocodile. But all the parameters in the     age-old battle between man and beast have just been blown apart in America by a new emissary: the KFC Double Down sandwich.

Two fillets of deep-fried chicken, two pieces of bacon, two slices of cheese, the Colonel’s sauce…and no bun. “No bun?” you may ask. “So how does it…” Well let me just stop you right there captain douchebag because the two pieces of deep-fried chicken…are…the…bun!!!!!  This product is so meaty, there is no room for a bun. Everything in America that used to be clothed between two pieces of bread is now ensheathed in meat.

So there is now a strong possibility in America that the words “Double Down” may soon become an active verb…a fast-food option in the same way that one can “super-size”. “Yes I really would like to substitute all bread in that sandwich for more meat…go ahead and double down baby”. “That Maxibon ice-cream sandwich sure looks good…but if I could get those chocolate biscuits swapped with chicken breasts that would be just dandy”. It used to be that bread was the king of the table and all else merely the court…but no longer. Welcome to the Age of Meat.

So I really do intend to re-start and re-invigorate my blog in this second month. I will sit down some time over the next couple of days and draft a summary of everything that has happened since I last posted. And although I would prefer to tell everyone about what the option of getting a snow-cone “stuffed” means, I will also try and talk about travel news for my more mature audience.

Jesus & the American Flag

April 23, 2010

I haven’t posted anything since Washington so I’ll just give a brief run-down of what I’ve been doing for the past week and a half. Since D.C. I have carved my way down the east coast briefly stopping at Baltimore (MD), Philadelphia (PA), Richmond (VA), before settling down to scribble this at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Then tomorrow I have an 8 hour Greyhound journey leaving at 6.55am for Asheville in North Carolina. Greyhound bus has been my main mode of transport for the trip having purchased a Greyhound Discovery Pass which gives me unlimited travel for 2 months for only $500 (around 250 quid). The buses are a real nut-magnet but if you want a more colourful journey around this country it is definitely the way to travel. On my last journey from Richmond to Charlottesville a very loud and very public fight kicked off between two women over one “sucking her teeth” at the other. But this fracas was just background noise compared to the crazy old-timer who sat next to me singing Gospel anthems & mumbling about how he was on his way to “Greeneville, Greeneville Mississippi”.

At my two first stops, Baltimore & Philly, I couldn’t have had two more vastly differing experiences. With a homicide rate nearly six times that of New York City, Baltimore does not have the picturesque vistas of Asheville or the monumental architecture of Washington D.C. Home of the Ravens & Orioles, the birthplace of Babe Ruth (The Sultan of Swat), and the final resting place of Edgar Allen Poe; Baltimore is a city known only previously to me through episodes of The Wire. I had a fairly intimate experience with one of the Baltimore housing projects when I wandered off to look for Poe’s old childhood home through one of the more ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods. Munching away on a Baltimore Crab Cake I aimlessly bumbled away from the shiny harbour renovations (the safe zone) into the celebrated ‘murderland’ (or at least it’s little cousin) where, although I didn’t get to meet Stringer Belle, I did get a snapshot of the vast disparity between rich and poor in the city.

So after a day viewing the sights of Birdland I returned in the evening to my hosts: a Jesuit Volunteer Community. Amanda (my contact) and 5 others are all 20 something year olds who live in this ramshackle row-house which has been passed down to them by community after community of previous JV’s. They are an inspiring bunch who work in various non-profit organisations in the city and despite the religious title of the programme are not the in-your-face evangelical movement that I unfairly assumed they’d be. Not wishing to end up seeming a total suck-butt and forego any opportunity to gently mock some of my hosts I hope they’ll forgive me for trying to be honest about my experience. I did come in contact with my first communal prayer at dinner while with the JV’s…a tradition that has increased the further I travel below the Mason-Dixon line. The reason why grace at dinner has been such an event for me so far is that I always become the subject of these prayers: the standard format being a thank-you to God for my safe arrival and my presence in their home. Sometimes we hold hands…sometimes we don’t. Coming from a land of tv dinners & religious cynicism these prayers are a fairly alien concept to one of the godless and I always end up in a prolonged battle with my tell-tale face worried that I may give off an accidental gurn of amusement or awkwardness. In fact I have now become quite fond of grace at dinner and can sustain a mask of unabashed piety throughout.

From Baltimore to Philadelphia. Spring Fling Baby! Philly was one big frat party. Beer Pong, the Keg Toss (illustrated beautifully above), endless imitations of my accent by beautiful students, night trips to Atlantic City (the Vegas of the East), Kegs & Eggs at 10.00am, power hour, fraternity pledges, uncooked meat. One of the most amusing people I met out there was this guy Mike who called me foreigner and had the most incredible tattoo I’ve ever seen: an upper-arm tattoo of Jesus’ face on the American Flag. He claimed that he got it because it gained him free drinks back home whenever he flashed it, but the volume of times he insisted we toast to those two great American institutions suggested otherwise. I don’t feel guilty in saying I didn’t see anything of Philly the city while I was there as I spent most of my time dotting between keg parties.

Anyway I’m aware that this is exploding into epic proportions and so I will cut this post short here and come back to you about Richmond, Charlottesville & Asheville at some other time. I hardly have touched on the Keg-side stories of Philly but a whole host of drinking anecdotes doesn’t really inspire my parents about the nature of this trip. Until next time.

Foggy Bottom

April 14, 2010

Today is my first laundry day…so as I have some time and a laptop on my hands I thought I’d do a very quick post. This is my third and final day in Washington before I lumber off to the Baltimore projects tomorrow. The relatively sleepy, blossom-laden suburbia of D.C. has been a real vintage draught following the megalopolitan New York City. I did love NYC…but when you’re traveling alone the endless compulsion to heaven-gaze at lofty sky-scrapers, along with the incessant drone of sirens, horns, and American voices, begins to feel oppressive and draining. “I don’t think we’re in Clifton anymore, Toto”.

In Washington I’m living a little away from the Capitol near the trendy U-street, or “Black Broadway”, which is famous for Ben’s Chili Bowl, Duke Ellington, and the 1968 Washington, D.C. Riots. Hosting me for destination number two have been the effervescent Maggie Clay and the Dastardly Duo Daniel Silver & Greg. Yesterday I got to do a spy tour of Capitol Hill with one of my Grandfather’s friends Carol Bessette, an ex-intelligence officer and intellectual powerhouse. Hidden as I was among a gaggle of ex-service personnel and a couple of present FBI agents Carol kept highlighting the fact there was a ‘foreign visitor among us’. This in juxtaposition with her tales of cold-war McCarthyism and the Red Scare now has me terrified that I’m going to wake-up one night gagged and bound in a warehouse being interrogated in my pants (or underwear in yank).

Washington in general is a very odd concept for any English tourist. Unlike London which sprawled out from some small settlement into the huge smoggy beast it is today; Washington is heavily designed and was built for the specific purpose of being a Capital. It exists as this U.S. display piece of pomp and grandeur which centers at Capitol Hill and then spreads out into huge parades of showcase Smithsonian museums; vast lawns that are designed to focus the eye on either gigantic monuments to US Presidents or gigantic War Memorials; and regal streets with names like Independence Avenue or Constitution Avenue. It feels a bit like walking through a snow-globe and you begin to wonder whether there are any amenities in the city such as shops or schools. However it’s a tourists dream and I think I’d probably sacrifice food and all the other staples that normal cities provide for a big statue of Abe Lincoln.

Anyway I’m off to historic Georgetown now to meet another one of my Grandfather’s old spy buddies. We’re planning on breaking into the Watergate building together to destroy some documents for ol’ Obama…and then we’ll have some pie.

Browner.