Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: Diversions

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Well: the weather has improved somewhat from its unseasonable excesses - Granny spent a happy hour in her hammock yesterday and Ruby, the goat, has returned from a sexy week with the billy. Describing just how sexy it was - plus gestures - was the only thing that cheered up the once raunchy neighbour who is suffering more these days from bad arthritis, broken nights, loneliness -and- this she doesn't say - an unsympathetic husband ('the other billy goat' she's been heard to call him.) A lively pretty woman in younger days, she was walked out on by the father of all her kids, many years ago, and not much better treated by his successor: the Canaries you see can be just like anywhere else. Granny's much more sympathetic Beloved is going to check her dubious arthritis medication with a doctor friend, but there's not much else he and Granny can do, except be friendly, which they are, though billy owner's indecipherable Lanzarote accent makes communication difficult sometimes, except when she is miming the activities of amorous goats.

Granny meantime is obsessed with American elections, raised up one day by good poll ratings for Obama, cast down next - as today -by doubt from one commenter as to whether this really means he's going to win, and by some detailed not very cheerful analyses of the racist factor, what people responding to the poll are not quite prepared to admit ...etc.

This obsession - chasing up every comment/article in every paper, US and English - could be partly - though not entirely - the election is serious stuff - a means of diversion from her need to get to back to proper - writing - work. It's a terrifying prospect after so long without writing much; she's plagued by every writer's doubt....'can I ever do it again' - and spooked by that awful hole in the world represented by the empty screen, or still emptier page in front of her.

To divert herself still further, she will report one or two conversations from her GREAT AMERICAN trip. All except one occurred during train journeys - where she encountered people quite different from her liberal, educated West and East Coast and New Mexican friends. This is is one reason she's always liked going on train journeys - and bus journeys too in the past. It's hard to understand the US and its huge cultural divide, without some experience of, what real distance means there and of the people who live amid such distances, a long way from anywhere. She spent an entire day once in a bus, going at 70 miles an hour, across a chunk of Wyoming: miles of nothing except, sometimes, fields of pecking oil donkeys; and now and then, many miles apart, odd stands of cottonwood trees appearing in the distance, denoting some archetypal little Western town: a short main street, of mostly one-storeyed buildings, rednecks in baseball caps sitting round the counter in its coffee-shop or drugstore, the Greyhound bus stand, some gas stations and fast food outfits, the inevitable body shop and its accompanying wasteland of dead cars, a few streets of those ubiquitous wooden houses with front and back yards and that's about it. She doubts if such towns have changed much, still. The voting decisions of grass-roots electors, seemingly so devoid of understanding of the world outside their town, let alone America, appear less weird after encountering a few places like this. It's a VAST country; the relative emptiness of large areas - and the endless urban sprawl of others can be hard for a Western European to grasp. (And even harder for one living on a very small and increasingly crowded island, the way Granny does these days. At times the contrast turned her head inside out.)

She sat in the dining-car during her train journey between Albuquerque and Los Angeles - another long ride through often empty and spectacularly beautiful country swept by storms and sun together across huge skies- opposite an ageing and stout farmer and his wife, from Kansas both teetotal (and somewhat surprised by Granny opting happily for a glass of wine after an alcohol-free few days in Albuquerque; not only drinking - but drinking ALONE). They had three sons -one of them a pastor - and eight or so grandchildren and were off on a rare and brief holiday to visit the wife's brother in Sacramento: the farm made it difficult usually to get away. The wife talked about her grandmother - "She came out to Kansas on a covered wagon - it took three months. She went back to the East Coast later, by stage coach. It took three weeks. Later still she went by train. It took three days. Finally she boarded a plane. It took three hours', the story, clearly recounted often, making Granny realise, yet again how close the USA may still be to the frontier, away from the coasts. Though politics were not mentioned, these people were, she reckoned natural republicans - yet altogether too decent and kindly, she suspects, to appreciate the extremes of current Republican election gatherings: she wonders whether they'll still be voting for McCain in the light of all that. Probably. She doubted if the young nerd from Portland, Oregon, sitting to her left would do so though - he was taking a holiday by railway before embarking on his second degree and seemed, long hair and all, a natural democrat. Next morning at breakfast she sat opposite an American Chinese lawyer from Pasadena who claimed - of the financial crisis - that it was in his view a matter of too much regulation rather than too little. He was obviously a Republican too; yet Granny cannot see him being fond of Sarah Palin and her racist rallies either. You see how complicated it all is.

Still no election talk on the slow train journey between Santa Barbara and San Francisco a few days later. Merely an ageing and very tiresome California beach bum, in beard, t-shirt, shorts and beer can, who chatted up every young woman in sight, accompanied or not - 'I'll be getting very jealous soon,' he said at any sign of affection between couples 'oh my go-d-d - oh my go-d-d,' though he met his match with a very demure and particularly young Amish couple - the girl's sleeves to her wrists, her skirt to her stockinged ankles, her head covered in a blue scarf. 'Isn't she pretty, your wife,' he said, but the Amish pair ignored him in a baffled way, sat, motionless, gazing out at the landscape, till called to the dining-car; he like the rest of us might as well not have not been there at all. The beach bum gave up on them. He didn't give up with anyone else, though. Granny realised there were some advantages to being old - he allowed her and the equally aged woman sitting next to her not so much as a glance, did not bother either of them, except to the extent everything he said and did bothered them. He went away in the end. A collective sigh of relief went round the lounge car, by now full of a pensioner group - maybe their appearance was why he went away - on a tour to Vancouver, via Seattle, returning to LA by boat and all complaining about the bumpiness of the train. Granny got two of the eldest - and most disaffected - over dinner: two widows in their 80's, they dreaded the bumpy night ahead and hoped the berths in the boat would be better. One of them came out to California from the Mid West, in 1942 aged 19, had never left.

The final conversation was in the cafe at the Metropolitan Museum in New York; with a woman in her thirties - unmistakably New York Jewish with a raucous Brooklyn accent. She had been to Europe - and Britain - several times, she said, but she was never going to come again, not with the way things were. 'All those Muslims, she said, 'All those Arabs there now, I wouldn't like it any more.' Granny didn't like to ask if she believed the websites claiming Obama was Arab. Though she did point out that many of the 'Muslims' - Granny can't began to reproduce her pronunciation of the word -got along quite well, in quite normal, day to day - and far from religiously defined - life; adding, a bit naughtily, that of two frequently appearing Channel 4 news commentators one was called Faisal Islam and the other Simon Israel. The Brooklyn one did not respond to this. She looked foxed.

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