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Thursday, July 11, 2002

Adventures in the UK & Finland

I know I promised an update on my adventures in the UK so here it is...I'll continue with my adventures since I left Odense, Denmark on my way to Finland.

Even though I had my choice of Stockholm or Copenhagen, I chose a flight to the UK because an old aquaintance had an empty guestroom only during the first part of my trip. Once in London, it was a little tricky to work the pay phones with my phonecard numbers, but it was more tricky to get in touch with my friend Dan.

Since I knew his neighborhood, I decided to get closer to where he lived as I continued to try his home number. This led me to the British Underground, which they call the "Tube" rather than the subway. Having just gotten off the squalid NY subways where I had my ukelele stolen, the tube was quite a contrast.

Inside the "real" British rail tube, the railings and seat handles were painted bright colors to contrast with the also brightly colored seats. I don't know if you remember an old TV series called "The Prisoner," but it was in a setting of a circusy, campy island where the protagonist was continually prevented from leaving. Straight from the old TV program an automated British woman's voice urged us all to, "Please, Stand Away from the Closing Doors."

At least I could leave when I wanted to, but finding directions gave me flashbacks to that same place because some people gave erroneous misleading ones. It was a little like being in a new video game that you hadn't yet figured out how to navigate. Eventually I walked over to my friend's house, and by then he was at home in his garden.

As anyone who has been to London knows, no street is at straight intersections with the neighboring streets. Getting around by following directions is very interesting, without a map. To amuse myself, I followed my dialogue friend Don Factor's suggestion to walk in any direction until I got tired...then figure out how to get back on the tube/rail or taxi. Later I realized that a bicyle map does the trick!

Don and his wife could easily become my old friends if I was in London awhile longer. Perhaps this impression came from how we had written to each other e-mail for so many years and were just picking up our conversation where we left off. I was quite impressed with the little stories Don had for what was in his livingroom. I was quite happy shopping in the swap meet/flea markets in London, but found better deals in Denmark. Had to send another package home to lighten my load a second time.

One day while I was in London, I got to spend in the archives of the newsletter that I do reviews for on Alexander Technique. I got to see some great old shots of F.M. Alexander...and read some of his old letters and ephemera. Evidently, the way people
wrote about the Alexander Technique changed quite a bit sometime in the 1980's. Maybe I can turn that into an article for that magazine later.

But by far the most interesting time I had to spend was with the people who had been on my Dialogue list for the last few years, but I had never met. Three of them were near London.

The first I got to meet was a character I know as "janoh", who lived in Gosport, across the bay from Portsmouth to the south. Jan O'Highway is a supporting artist who lives with her affectionate mum. Jan mainly works in tile. She showed me one of her ceramic installations in a nearby park commemorating the nearby historic businesses. She and I got along famously, we even made some art on her scanner.

She proudly showed me off to most of her friends and collegues in her studio building. One of these friends lived in Bath. She wanted me to meet Nick because he was a "lurker" on the Dialogue group. (Lurkers have membership but only read what other people write without contributing anything themselves.) Coincidentally enough, Nick knew some of my friends in Bolinas, and that wasn't the first time I was left with a "small world" feeling. The second time was when I met an old lover of Hawk's on the voyage from the UK to Denmark.

Bath was a historic area, where all of the new buildings have to conform to the look of 13th century stone. Nick walked with Janoh and I, being a wonderful tour guide. I just missed the Roman Baths being open after 25 years of refurbishments.

A memorable church facade had people going up Jacob's ladder. ...and then the designer had to find a way to illustrate angels descending so they were different from the mere mortals going the sculptor oriented the angels upsidedown. The lush countryside and winding vistas looked very similar to Bolinas' countryside. Unfortunately for my red nose & eyes, there were also similar weeds blooming!

I got back to home base at my friend Dan & Fan's house in London and took lots of drugs to make myself stop sneezing. We all went out on the Thames River Tour and the Royal Botanical gardens, later I went to the Tate modern art museum. In between,
I played with their kids, Aidan, 5 & Niah, 2. I really enjoyed the kids & staying with the family, even though Aidan needed some education in the details of photography after he curiously opened up the back of my camera! Aidan has an impressive facility & patience for putting together quite complex Leggo toys far beyond his years, and the camera admittedly looked like a toy, so I couldn't blame him much. Aidan's mom Fan was quite impressed that Aidan got instruction from me in how photography works instead of slow and excruciating child torture.

Niah was one of the most self-possessed people I have ever met. We had quite a few involved philosophical talks about the nature of AI scripting. Evidently I made a deep impression on Niah, because she was very disappointed when her dad told her that I'd "gone home." I'll have to see her again soon to keep up the freshness of our correspondence, because she can't yet type or write to be in contact by e-mail.

When traveling, it's always a little tricky to negotiate how you are going to get to where you want to go. Finland was it, I was in Odense, Denmark when I last wrote you ...but how to get there? Checking, I knew I didn't have enough money to go through Sweden because it was booked up, so I settled on going around to Helsinki on a ferry that went from Rostock, Germany. I decided to use the old trick of inexpensively riding county busses to get myself from Odense to Rostock. It worked, except it got
late and I missed the timing for the free bus to get people across to the southern islands. So, I had to hitchhike those seven miles.

This time I had a good map, so I pulled out my long hair and stuck out my thumb. Evidently, even long dark blonde hair is very unusual in Denmark...that's why
people would talk to me in Danish so often. Maybe they want to see if my hair was real.

The guy who picked me up was very amusing, even though he didn't speak English very well. It was a good thing that I couldn't read Danish before I jumped in, because written on the side of his truck said he ran a sort of catered slaughtering
business! I had just left the vegetarian crowd that I fell in with in Odense and wondered what that coincidence meant. This guy had too much work all over Denmark slaughtering and butchering people's farm animals for them. During the hour we sat while waiting for the ferry to load his truck, he invited me to stay at his place in Danemare. Coincidentally, he had to drive near where the ferry at Rostock
left from the next morning - or maybe he decided to go in that direction just for me, I don't know.

The thing that convinced me it was safe to take him up on his offer was the way he asked me to get out of his truck to have dinner he could pick up his "mommy and grand-mommy" to give them a ride home. I knew he wasn't remembering his English very accurately, but it was so innocent talking with a grown man who would say "mommy" with a straight face. He had an old little dog named after a mouse that
I painted a watercolor portrait of, and luckily it came out looking like the dog in question. We had lots of fun talking with many hand gestures. Allon was very polite and the third person to offer me a place to stay longterm in Denmark, even showing me where he kept the key to his house. Later when I talked to another person who was fluent in English again...I was still waving my arms around while I talked simply... amazing how quickly I could adapt and how easy it is to set up new mannerisms.

So on the way to Tampere from Helsinki, I didn't have enough Euros to pay for the fare because the station had closed just as I arrived from the boat. Surprisingly, the conductor gave me the half portion of my ticket free. I couldn't tell if it happened because I flashed my debit card and large bills in two different currencies. I think it was late and the conductor was feeling generous. I was also talking to a soccer star whom he probably recognized!

Right now I'm in Tampere, Finland...visiting my good friend Outi for the last week. Tampere has been a wonderful place to feel at home and also ride out the many thunderstorms. In between the warm rain there have been windows of sun. So Outi has taken me for her favorite walks by the forest where she lives and walks her dog, Romie. Right now she is out gathering mushrooms and berries while I’m writing. The lakes have charming little docks and ladders for you to climb out of the water onto, even though the rest of the lake has been left natural.

Here's the lake in this photo...

Of course I had to experience a REAL Finnish sauna. The people who go to saunas here are really dedicated. They have these little loofa booties on, with strange little round white string hats. The slippers keep your feet from burning on the 140¤ C heat, & the hats are supposed to protect your hair. You sit on a little plywood piece that is cut out in the shape of a butt. When you feel cooked enough, you run out the
doors outside and down to the stairway that goes to the lake...and jump in the green murky water.
Surprisingly, the lake is pretty warm next to how you might imagine it, being glacier fed. I watched on the news how a glacier fell on a town in Italy. Guess global warming means a different thing to people who live next to glaciers.

Being with Outi, once a constant friend of mine, has been wonderful. I have never traveled in another country when I didn't know the language before...and it was quite an odd experience. I didn't realize how much of a stranger I felt until I came to be with a very familiar face. That must be why most people go home after a month of traveling

Now tommorrow I'm headed back on the ferries to Denmark where I'm going to perhaps visit Copenhagen and new I'll write again when I have a chance to give you the next update...

Thanks again for your encouragement, enthusiasm and in many cases, indespensible practical support in helping me go on the voyage of my life!!!