London, London, That’s My Town

When the noticeable bomb went off in the London hotel next door, I decided to move from my upscale digs to find something less grand—and maybe safer.  So I checked with friends, who suggested several, but I decided to take a walk and find a place where I’d feel comfortable…and safe.  (Good shoes make walking in London comfortable. One can pass the statue of Churchill smoking his famous cigar; one can pass the Franklin Roosevelt statue and tip one’s hat his way; and cross a bridge made famous because of a famous woman leader of a rebel group­—oh, then eventually find just the right hotel.)

It was the County Hotel, where “local” visitors stay.  Clean rooms, three meals a day, a lobby pay telephone about which I never learned how to use, showers, a friendly staff, and a small bar adjoining where one might find a sandwich in the afternoon.  I’ve stayed there during several visits to England, using the laundry machines down the street, past the park with several interesting figures encouraging a visit within the park.

After 9/11, my granddaughter and I stayed at the hotel, walked the street to then nearby tube station/train station, pausing for a moment to see where a bus had been blown up by the same bunch who hit New York.  The hotel restaurant had a rather limited menu: beans, eggs, soup, did I mention beans?, and sometimes may try to appeal to French guests more than U.S. guests, who often prefer staying in hotels with recognizable names…..their loss.  That’s okay, part of the fun of travel. Beans?

London is an easy city through which to walk, always being aware of one’s surroundings, checking into church gardenA London street sales, then finding lunch at the numerous outlets offering reasonable and delicious food. One place, I overheard (I eavesdropped a great deal everywhere I went) three college age fellows talking about the University of Oregon, a play directed by a world famous  man, and getting great reviews. Yes, of course, I struck up a conversation. And it was fun!  (My granddaughter rolled her eyes!)  It turned out these were Oregon chaps enjoying working in the play.

Plan at least a week in London; take in the plays (I think Wednesday is dark, but check), go out to nearby towns famous for flowers or some historic event—the tube is simply a great, fast, clean way to travel…and not expensive. And Londoners almost speak English—although it often seemed like a foreign language to me.London

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Food and Shots

The entire continent of Africa, as the new book King Leopold’s Ghost describes so clearly, was chopped up by the “civilized” nations of Europe:  England, Belgium, France, and Portugal.  Under the color of kindness, these nations robbed, enslaved, and killed thousands of Africans while stealing the rich produce, i.e. gold, etc., that was found there.

That vast continent today still draws world attention for other unsavory reasons:  mini-wars involving child-kidnappings, villages destroyed, and brutal destruction reflecting the problems of the Middle East.  Under another guise, religious groups in the U.S. and England especially sent preachers and priests to “redeem the souls” of the Africans, who had their own religion, thank you very much.

When my son was sent by the Peace Corps to Mauritania, a small West African country, it piqued my interest, so after he’d been there a couple of years, I decided to visit him.  A French teacher in my school decided that since I was going, he’d also take a trip, stopping in Senegal.  I warned him to be certain to get all the required (big time required) shots.  He laughed it off.

After our plane landed in Dakar, the last time I saw him on this trip was as he was being  dragged down the stairs—probable destination: a medic with a needle.  They mean business about health, so if you ever go, please get your shots.

This was all before Al-Qaida, or Isil or Isis—all the same serious warlords. But one day I received a call at the house where I was a guest.  It was the American Embassy, warning all householders to remain inside. I decided to obey, although I wasn’t certain what was about to happen.  Well, soon trucks loaded with white-clad men, yelling and brandishing weapons, began to stream past the house, demonstrating against something or someone.

Later, while walking with my son around town, I noticed a sign with the famous logo of a radical group.  I started to take a picture; my son had a fit—worried that we’d create a “scene.”  Or worse.  So, as one should when in a foreign country, I listened to the expert and hid the camera and kept walking.

There’s table behavior also that one learns. (Remember which hand to use for eating if it’s finger food … see earlier post for that.)  Being food-phobic, a disease I just made up, I always question the ingredients in the food in the bowls before me.  One day, on another trip to Africa, a large pizza-like platter was placed before us.  Ah, something that looked familiar!  So I took a large slice, and began to eat:  it tasted fine.  I mentioned that after about my third satisfactory bite.  One of the men at the table said, “Yes, it’s pigeon.  Delicious.”

I’ve always tried to ignore the source of food, especially meat, that I enjoy. I try not to picture cute little calves or their mooing mommies or daddies as I eat a hamburger or meat loaf or steak.  But pigeon! Those pretty white and gray birds who strut around my yard. It was like eating family. I quickly became “satisfied” to explain my loss of appetite.