What I Did On My Christmas Vacation
a rough attempt at a travel journal
by Roger MacBride Allen
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Note: Clicking on "Start of Current Journal Entry" should jump you
to the first entry since I last updated the online version of this file, so you jump
past older entries you have already read. At any given time, there will likely be
several entries after the current entry start-point.
Brasilia, Brazil: December 18, 1996. Eleanore and I are off to
the States for a visit home at Christmas. If all goes well, we should make set off
on Saturday, December 21, traveling through the night via Sao Paulo, Atlanta, and
San Francisco, en route to our first port of call, Carmel, California. We'll visit
there with her parents before traveling with them back to their home in Fresno, California.
My plan is to try and keep updating this file during the trip, uploading the current
version whenever I can get near a computer with an Internet connection. I might not
be able to get on that often, and I might have to resort to fairly rough-and-ready
hook-ups and text editors, but we'll see how it goes.
I'm looking forward to this trip with the usual mix of excitement and apprehension
over such weighty matters as how many pairs of socks to pack. (The answer might be
none: I'm planning to do a sock-and-underwear run as soon as possible. My current
sock and underwear supply is looking pretty ratty after two years in the tropics,
and it would let me travel lighter.)
Travel, especially extended travel over long distances, can be something of a nuisance,
as well as an adventure. Sometimes I worry a bit too much about the nuisance, and
enjoy the adventure too little. Here's hoping I do better this time. If all goes
as expected, I'll be on the road until about January 18, 1997, and wind up getting
to lots of very different places. But, on the other hand, things rarely go as expected,
which is what makes travel journals entertaining. So stop in here from time to time
and check the state of play.
Brasilia, Brazil: December 21, 1996. Well, that
goes to show how much I know. I figured nothing else much could happen before we
left. Instead, we seem to have this second cat, provisionally named Jasper, weight:
410 grams, or about 15 ounces. Size: about that of a mid-sized hot dog (with bun),
or a large ham sandwich when curled up. At a guess, he is four weeks old. His mother
was a cat who hung around the ground level of our apartment building. It seems that
one of the janitors got tired of having the cat around, and so scooped up Momcat
plus three out of four kittens, and dumped them at the edge of town. This splendidly
kind janitor accidently left one kitten (one very loud kitten) behind. We heard the
little dude yawping and decided to investigate. Being a pair of old softies, my wife
Eleanore and I found ourselves taking the teeny thing upstairs "just to him
some milk. That was three days ago, and the kitten is still there. The problem is,
we aren't. I am writing this entry from seat 3A of Varig's flight 279 to Sao Paulo.
We have friends coming in to take care of our existing cat,the Woozle, and we couldn't
find anyone to take on Jasper, so we're stuck. It was leave Jasper at our apartment
or let the poor little dude die. (Our decision to keep him was made easier by his
being very cute, very brave, and very affectionate. He's particularly fond of curling
up on one's shoulder and sleeping there.)
The problems don't end with schedule problems, however. Eleanore is allergic to cats,
and I've had to give Woozle a bath once a week. One cat is bad enough, but two cats
may well be more than Eleanore's nose can take. We'll see when Eleanore gets back.
(The plan is for her to return to Brasilia before me.)
Woozle, for what it is worth, is fascinated by Jasper, and alternates between very
gentle, almost maternal, behavior, and treating the kitten as a sort of superior
type of squeak toy. He hasn't hurt Jasper, and Jasper tolerates the rough-housing
quite well, so things should be all right.
December 21, 1996: Sao Paulo, Brasil. Here we are now, in the next
airline along on this little saga. Sao Paulo is quite a place. This one city by itself
has one-half the population of all Canada. Just as New Yory City is in New York State,
the city of Sao Paulo is in the state of the same name. All by itself, Sao Paulo
State represents one of the largest economies in South America. And we, despite a
five-hour layover, won't get to see any of it. By the time we go to where the bus
to the city leaves from, waited on the next departure, and took the bus in, it would
be time to come back to the airport. So instead of dining at one of the many spectacular
restaurants in the huge and strange city, we are at a snackbar at the airport, a
spot by the name of Padelho Multi Doces Caseiros Ltda. Loosely translated,
that means "It Would Be Wise to Chew Very Thoroughly Before Attempting To Swallow."
(All right, maybe it doesn't mean that -- but after that meal, I can tell you that
One feature of Brazilian life has been on repeated display today as we ran about
doing our last-minute errands. Brazil is the land of no change. Not change in the
sense of not being the same -- but change in the sense of being able to break a twenty.
No one here can break a twenty real-- in part for the very good reason that
there is no such thing. The real is worth about 95 cents American at the
moment. (The word "real" is pronounced "HEY-al." The plural is
spelled "reais" and prounounced "HEY-ice." There are one
real, five real, ten real, fifty real, and one hundred
real notes -- but no twenty -- and no one ever has change for a ten, and
rarely for a five. This means that once you're stuck with a fifty real note,
you're dead. It can take days to find someone able to break that big a note. Nor
is it just the big notes. Eleanore and I once went to a street vendor who was selling
every item on his cart for the same price -- one real each. Judging by all
the empty soda bottles in the return bins by his cart, he had done good business
that day. We bought two sodas and a bag of potato chips. Total: R$3.00. I gave him
a five. He could not -- or at least would not -- give me the R$2.00 change. We had
to scramble through all our pockets for small coins and a crumbled one real
note in order to pay him.
In an utterly typical transaction, I recently bought R$44.55 worth of groceries at
the local hypermarket -- a place with at least thirty cash registers, and covering
several acres. I handed over a fifty -- and had to wait ten or fifteen minutes for
the runner to come from the central office, get the fifty, and then come back with
my $4.45 in change. Those who do arithmetic without thinking will notice the flaw
there. The change was a realshort -- but by that time, the runner was already
over the horizon, and I figured R$1.00 was a small price to pay for getting the hell
out of there. This sort of thing is far from rare. Try as you might to be prepared,
t here are times when you simply don't have small bills, and yet need to buy something.
It is wisest at such time to factor in enough time for the merchant to send someone
across the street to the store across the way, in hopes of finding someone with enough
cash on hand to give two fiver for a ten.
No one in this country has change. There is -- or at least used to be -- a good reason
for this: hyperinflation. Brazil has gone through four currencies since 1985, the
first three of which inflated away to almost nothing at all. The current currency,
the real, is inflating at "only" about fifteen percent a year. If inflation
got anywhere near that point in the U.S., the President would have to get his resume
in order. Down here, fifteen or eighteen percent inflation is considered "almost"
zero. The last currency hit a monthly inflation rate of forty percent, which works
out to a yearly rate of about 4000 percent! It also comes to a daily inflation
rate of four percent.
And that means no change, for two reasons. One, the value of coins inflates away
to almost nothing in the space of a few months. If what cost five cents in June costs
five dollars in January, no one is going to bother keeping nickels on hand. Second,
the money in the till is losing its value as well. Put a dollar's worth of change
in the till Monday morning, and by nightfall it's only worth 98 cents. By Tuesday
morning, it's worth 96 cents. By the end of the week, it might only be worth 75 or
80 cents. In lieu of change, many stores kept jar full of gum and candy by the register,
so customers could take their change that would hold its value until morning. In
some stores, there were people whose full-time job was to change prices. Other stores
simply posted prices in U.S. dollars and did the conversion -- based on that hour's
exchange rate -- at the check-out.
The most rational thing to do with money in a hyper-inflationary situation is to
get rid of it: to buy something, to exchange it for a more stable currency, or even
to run up a debt before you get the money, so you can pay it off later with
money that has lost value since you took on the debt. (People did this with checks
all the time, for example, writing checks on Friday and Saturday against checks that
would not be deposited until Monday. For some reason, Brazilian merchants will accept
checks for anything from anyone without any ID, even though the bad-check rate is
In short, in order to dodge inflation, people invested a great deal of time and effort
playing games with money. At least people who could afford to do played them. The
very poor clearly couldn't move in and out of dollars in order to hedge against inflation.
For this reason, hyperinflation hit the poor the hardest. Many upper-class people
learned how to flip money around so adeptly that they actually made a profit out
In any event, since change was worthless, the whole nation got into the habit of
not having change. Today, in post-inflation Brazil, not having change is one of the
many subtle relics of the bad old days. There are many such imbedded in the everyday
life of Brazil. Shopping carts have hook-and-chaing arrangements on their front ends,
so several carts can be strung together at once. (That way, you can buy more at once,
and use up all your cash before it evaporates.) Buses have a live conductor to collect
fares. (If the fare changes constantly, you can't adjust the farebox often enough
to keep up, so you don't have a farebox. Instead you have someone whose job it is
simply to know how much the bus ride cost today. Those dishes of gum and candy are
still there by many a cash-register. Stores, even small ones, have to have enough
staff on hand so that someone is available to run for change.
Such contrivances are plainly inefficienet and unwieldly. They aren't needed these
days, and yet they remain in place because people are used to them, and because,
for example, people developed their shopping habits during the years of inflation.
They'll stay around until present-day incovenience outweighs old hands -- and they'll
stay until the Brazilian people are absolutely certain that hyperinflation -- a condition
that was the normal state of affairs for much of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s
-- is not coming back. Things are looking up at the moment, but given the track record
of Brazilian currencies, it could be a long wait.
In the meantime, I'm still stuck with this fifty. You wouldn't happen to have five
tens, would you?
Atlanta, Georgia: December 22, 1996, 8:40 am. We have now made our
first port of call here in the United States, and celebrated by purchasing such typical
Southern delicacies as bagels and the Sunday New York Times. We're busily
noting hair and clothing styles that have changed, reveling in feeling cold air instead
of 90-degree heat (which is just not right in December). I am also reminded that
Americans are also much bigger, on average, than Brazilians. Suddenly I am no longer
abnormally huge. We're also enjoying the chance to deal with courtesy, competent,
confident help behind the counter, instead of excessively deferential staff who don't
actually know their jobs.
It's also a bit startling to be reminded just how different the color palette for
people is back here. In the U.S., there's black and white and Asian, with very little
admixture (though we won't see many Asians until we hit San Francisco.) The people
in Brazil come in a vastly wider number of colors, with a lot more shades in the
middle, and skin color not corresponding anywhere near as much to facial shape or
We also could not help noticing that people here at the Atlanta airport aren't color-coded
by job. There is, of course, terrible racism in the United States, but at least you
can't automatically tell how menial a person's job is by the color of his
skin. (I am ashamed to say that I once saw a dark-skinned black Brazilian driving
a car and did a double-take. After living there for a year or more, I had learned
that people with that shade of skin could not afford cars. They can barely afford
food. In Brazil, people dark-skinned enough to be considered black by American standards
are on the absolute bottom rung by any standard you could name -- income level, life
expectency, access to health care, literacy -- and the gap is wider and deeper than
the gap in the United States. It is also just about absolute. Middle- and upper-class
Brazilian blacks do not,for all intents and purposes, exist. It's wonderful to see
well-fed, well-dressed, prosperous, healthy-looking black people again.
It's nice to be home.
Jet-Lagged in a Tree-house: Carmel, California, December 24, 1996
Well, the rest of yesterday was interesting, and most of it was even fun. After a
perfectly fine flight from Atlanta, we had a somewhat bumpy approach and landing
at San Francisco -- with the result that I managed to be somewhat emphatically airsick
literally thirty seconds before touchdown. Disgusting, but no big deal, and it wasn't
too bad a clean-up. We boarded our first aircraft in Brasilia at 5:30 pmBrazil time,
and arrived in San Fransisco at abut 11:30 am. From there we went straight to Union
Square to admire the Christmans decoraions, boggle at the prices at Neiman-Marcus,
and take a look at the strange artwork on sale at Gump's. Then it was time to hurry
over to my brother-in-law Carl's apartment, near Golden Gate Park. Carl has just
learned he has been accepted into the Foreign Service, and will start training in
January. This, of course, led to a lot of shop talk between Eleanore and Carl. A
crowd of other relatives materialized, and we all had a terrific take-out Thai food
lunch. Then Carl, Eleanore, their parents and myself packed outselves into the minivan,
and it was off to collect a friend of Carl's before driving on to Carmel, California,
and the property Eleanore's family owns there. There are two houses on the property,
and Eleanore and I slept in the main house that night, and went to bed early by California
standards, but about three in the morning by Brazil standards. It had been a very
The next morning, December 23, after a leisurely breakfast, we transferred our belongings
to the other house -- an actual and authentic tree-house, built in and around and
through a redwood tree, with several other trees growing up through the frame of
the house. The place has running water, heat, electricity, and phone service, but
also is a trifle on the eccentric side. You have to go through the shower-stall to
go from one lowr-level room to another, for example. Then it was off to Point Lobos
Park to admire the sea-otters and seals and sea lions lolloping on the shore and
in the surf. We also saw whales spouting off toward the horizon -- or at least we
saw spouts. I suppose that doesn't count as actually seeing a whale. After running
a few errands in the town of Carmel, and feeding the rather aggressive geese in the
pond at the center of town, it was back home in order to get ready to go out for
a swell dinner at a restaurant a bit further down in the coast in the opposite direction,
in the Big Sur area. Then back to the tree-house, where Eleanore and I slept. The
next morning, today, December 24, we got up, packed up, bought some produce, and
headed for Fresno, home town to Eleanore's family. We are in the minivan, headed
that way, as I close out this entry.
Fresno, California: December 26, 1996. We arrived
at Eleanore's parents' home in late afternoon, and more or less immedidately dove
into a flurry of wrappping presents and cooking. Eleanore and I had done most of
our shopping via mail-order from Brazil, and so we weren't absolutely sure everything
had shown up until we were here. It was a relief to see all the right shipping boxes
waiting for us.
Carl's girlfriend Joan, Joan's brother Paul, and their mother, Fran, were due to
arrive about the same time we did, but there was a flaw. The plan had been for Carl
to call as we were leaving Carmel, said call serving as the cue to depart, but Joan's
phone got knocked off the hook, and no one there noticed for a while. Carl figured
out what must have happened, and gave up trying to call because we had to get moving.
The long and the short of it is that Joan's family got moving a little late, but
got here just the same.
Eleanore and I got delegated to go shopping, which we gladly did, as it had been
a while since either of us had seen the inside of a proper supermarket. (There are
huge grocery stores called "hypermarkets" in Brazil, but they don't have
much selection. There's several acres of sales space, but instead of twenty each
of ten thousand items, there are five hundred each of two thousand items -- and a
lot of those items are junk.) But, of course, it went beyond seeing lots of stuff.
There ws also just the fun of remembering products we had more or less forgotten
existed: English muffins and fresh mushrooms, for example. Seeing fruit and vegetables
that were actually fresh, and didn't have flies buzzing over them and a slight crusting
of dirt was also a real novelty.
Back to the house with a huge collection of groceries, and more rushed cooking and
wrapping and so on. Joan, Paul, and Fran arrived at about 8:00 pm, and we sat down
to a terrific meal -- artichokes as appetizers, salmon steak as main course, and
Carl's terrific chocolate mousse for dessert. By the time dinner got done, Eleanore
and I (still half on Brazil time) were pretty close to exhausted, as were a number
of the locals -- everyone had had a long day. There was a certain amount of juggling
to do in order to get everyone a bed. Eleanore and I shoved the living room couches
into a pretty comfortable bed -- though we sank so far down into the cushions that
we almost vanished from sight. And so we slept.
The next morning, Christmas Day, my eyes snapped awake far earlier than they had
any business doing (another relic of being on Brazil time). The rest of the household
started to appear about eight am. Eleanore's father, David, is a doctor, and he had
snuck out of the house about 6:30 am to do early morning rounds at a local hospital,
and of course we had to wait for him. I took advantage of the chance to call my brother's
house in Chapel Hill and wish all there a merry Christmas. David arrived back at
about 9:10, and it was about 9:30 or so before we all got down to the serious business
of opening presents.
December 27, 1996: Salt Lake City, Utah. I'm starting to fall a
bit behind in my journal-keeping. Let's see if I can get caught up. Going back two
days to Christmas, I'd have to say that Carl and Joan were the big winners when it
came to getting gifts, mostly because it was possible to shop for them, because their
lives are changing. In a funny way, Carl and Joan are easy to shop because of travel,
while Eleanore and I are hard to shop for -- because of travel. Carl is
heading into the Foreign Service and a lot of moving and traveling, and thus anything
small and portable will come in handy. As he and Joan have been living togetether
and now must break up their household (though not, it must be emphasized, their romance),
Joan, for example, suddenly needed replacements for the kitchenware Carl was taking
along. Eleanore and I got a lot of great presents, but we don't make it easy. Anything
for us must be something we can fit back in our luggage or in the mail to Brazil.
The fact that we are returning in nine months and thus must pack up whatever-it-is
all over again just makes it that much trickier. Books and music do quite well under
such circumstances, and we got a lot of both. The short form is that everyone gave
and received really very nice gifts.
My favorite gift was at the same time my most frustrating one. My most recent book,
Utopia, was published in November. No one back at the publisher or the packager
remembered to send me copies. Up until the moment I opened the copy I found under
the tree, I had never laid eyes on a copy of my own book.
After the big gift exchange, we sat down to a huge breakfast of eggs and home-made
coffee cake. Having eaten enough that we could barely move, most of us then decided
to go for a walk before returning home to start to work cooking the full turkey dinner
we then had for dinner. People read the books they had gotten and played with their
presents and napped in between bouts of cooking. Then it was time for the big dinner,
which went very well indeed.
Joan, Fran, and Paul had to leave shortly after dinner, and the rest of us saw them
off as they left. Eleanore and I moved to the fold-out couch that Fran had had the
night before, and slept there. The next day, December 26, I once again woke up earlier
than called for, and the rest of the crew gradually emerged. Eleanore and Carl and
I had all received gift certificates for Tower Records that were burning holes in
our pockets, and there were several other favorite stores of Eleanore's that she
wanted to visit, and Eleanore and I had a bit of a shopping list when we got to the
States. So off we went to the stores. Things required a certain amount of juggling,
as the Foxes were holding an open house, but we got to nearly every place we wanted,
and Liz and I even managed to sneak off long enough to see the latest Star Trek
movie. We got back to the house and joined the rest of the family who were already
at work setting out the food for the party.
It was a very pleasant party, with David's quartet playing for the gathering and
lots of good food and good conversation. The first of the guests arrived a little
after five, and the last of them left about 9:30, at which point I treated myself
to a special indulgence -- two ears of fresh corn on the cob. I had purchased them
on Christmas Eve, and it was a real treat to have them. There is corn on the cob
in Brazil, but it is more or less universally dreadful. The corn I had last night
was not the world's greatest (how could it be, this far out of season) but it was
lightyears ahead of the Brazilian product.
And so, for Eleanore and myself, to bed. Before turning in, we got all packed and
ready to step out the door this morning. We left the house about 6:10 am, with Carl,
Liz, and David coming along, and off we went to the airport. We caught the 7:00am
flight to Salt Lake City, and made a somewhat tight connection to New York City.
We're on that flight as I write this entry. We should get in about 4:30, which will
just give us time to get to our hotel, unpack, and change before heading off to see
Show Boat tonight.
New York, New York: December 29, 1996. I'm typing this entry on
the train as we leave New York after a terrific whirlwind visit. It was touch and
go, but on Dec 27, a day that started in Fresno, California, we did indeed finish
off at the Gershwin Theater, seats C7 and C5, watching a terrific production of
Show Boat. Getting from JFK Airport to our hotel went about as smoothly as could
be expected, but still it was a bit nerve-wracking to be stuck in traffic while the
minutes ticked by. However, the airport bus got us to Grand Central, and the hotel
shuttle bus got us to the Park Central in good order, and we just had time for a
quick shower and a change of clothes before walking the six blocks to the theater.
Show Boat certainly is a terrific show full of great songs, and the performances
were all first-rate. Still and all, there was something of a museum quality about
the whole thing. It was lively and full of energy, but I would almost call it a reproduction,
rather than a revival. I had never seem a full-blown production of it before, and
one thing that struck me was that the whole issue of race relations was far less
emphasized than I had expected. Aside from opening number, the famous miscegenation-accusation
scene, and, I suppose, the song Old Man River, there is very little on the
subject in the first act -- and nothing at all in the second act. the There was really
very little in the first act about race relations, and nothing at all in the second.
What struck me was that no character in the play, black or white, every actually
protested against the obvious injustice, let alone act against it. The plotting was
rather episoidic, and often rather thin. Show Boat was the first modern
American musical, and you could see that the form was not utterly perfected the first
time out of the gate. But for all of that, it was a great time, and a delight to
After the show, we found a Chinese restaurant that was open and treated ourselves
to a few properly spicy dishes. (Brazilians seem to like their Chinese food bland.)
By that time, Eleanore and I were both just plain tuckered out. The next morning,
December 28th, we were up and out by about nine a.m. for breakfast at the Carnegie
Deli, where I am about ninety-nine percent sure I saw the actor Daniel Stern go past
at on his was to a table at the rear, two small boys in tow. The other highlight
of our Carnegie breakfast was hearing our hard-boiled tough-old-broad, made-in-Brooklyn
waitress using one of her two or three phrases in Japanese to see if the two vacationing
Office Ladies next to us were ready for their check. Internationalism rules. (I must
add that I noticed a number of stores and shops with Brazilian flags up. We heard
a few snatches of Portuguese here and there as we walked about. Our friends to the
south are indeed starting to make their presence known.
We grabbed a cab to the Guggenheim Museum, but found out that the exhibit Eleanore
wanted to see -- works by Max Becker -- were at the galley's Soho location. So we
walked down to the Netropolitan Museum of Art, and caught several of the the special
exhibits there. I'd have to say the British miniature portraits and the Nefertiti
exhibits were my favorites. We stuck our noses into the Christian Dior exhibition,
but it was utterly mobbed. Indeed, by the time we were ready to be on our way, the
whole museum was getting extremely crowded. The morale of the story: try and find
ways to get there on Tuesdays, outside the tourist season.
Upon leaving the museum, we took a cab back down to the theater district and the
matinee of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, starring Nathan
Lane. He was brilliant, absolutely hilarious. Whatever reservations I might had had
about revivals after Show Boat utterly vanished once Forum kicked
off. It was hilarious from start to finish, tightly paced, sharply done, quick and
smart and bawdy. If you have any chance at all, go see it -- while Nathan Lane is
in it. He is going to be replaced by Whoopi Goldberg in February. That seems like
a bit of suicidally odd casting for a role originated by Zero Mostel, a role that,
for example,calls for a lot of ogling of show girls. I don't know how they'll pull
it off. But if they do manage to make Whoopi work in the role, it will be an acto
of show business genius, or miracle -- because it sure won't be a case of show business
After the show, we walked, by gradual stages, over to the corner of Second Avenue
and E. 70th, pausing to wander into this or that shop on the way, and hacking our
way through the incredible crowds in and around Rockefeller Center. It was amazing
how many people were bustling around. The crowds in Times Square and Rockefeller
Center were so large they almost seemed to link up.
We got to Second and 70th and went up to my friend Jim's apartment. Jim is on a high
floor with a southern view of the city, and it is just a spectacular sight. We had
a good dinner with Jim at a restaurant near his house. We had discussed going to
a late movie, but by ten, when we were back at Jim's apartment to go over the movie
listings, Eleanore was coming close to dozing off. We took that as a sign from above
and decide to cancel the movie and grab a cab back to our hotel. Eleanore went straight
to bed, but I was feeling restless, and walked down Seventh Avenue and Broadway through
the bustling crowds. I had heard some complaints that Time Square has been turned
into a theme park, and I can understand the complaint -- but on the other hand, it
is the crowds, the people, the energy that make Time Square what it is supposed to
be, and they were all there. Everyone was there, and they were all having a fun and
exciting time. I couldn't help but notice one street vendor already had Happy New
Year hats for sale. But, after a quick exploration, it was time for me to get to
bed as well. The next day was going to be a busy one.
January 5, 1997: Bethesda, Maryland. The problem
with keeping this sort of record is that it is often hard to live a series of events
sufficiently interesting to merit a journal, while still finding time to write about
what happens. That's certainly the case here. I am now nearly a week behind, and
will have to struggle a bit to get caught up. But, for the time being, I think I'd
better just upload what I have so far before I get any further behind.
January 5, 1997, 11:47 pm: Bethesda, Maryland.As I am now a bit
more than a bit behind on this journal, I will do the next few days date by date.
December 29, 1996. Eleanore and I got up about eight and
packed up for the next leg of the journey. After a bit of struggle, we got packed
out and checked out of the hotel and hailed a cab to Penn Station, where we bought
tickets for Washington and checked our luggage. As we were running about an hour
late, thanks to rather long lines for pretty much every transaction, we splurged
on yet another cab, and rode it to Lori and Larry's apartment, Lori being Eleanore's
second cousin (unless they are first cousins once removed -- I don't have it quite
straight. The four of us visited in their apartment for a bit before heading over
to a classic New York Greek-run diner, where we had a first-rate diner-style breakfast
and caught up on family gossip and stories. Larry had to head off to work, but ELeanore,
Lori and I went back to their apartment for a bit, and then the three of us walked
over to the Strand bookstore and rummaged around the shelves there. The Strand is
the great-grandmother of all used book stores, and it was a bit disheartening to
see my brand-new book UTOPIA on the shelves there -- thus making it the first store
in which I ever saw my book. Nor did it help matters that Forbidden Planet, the big
science-fiction store didn't have UTOPIA -- or, indeed, any of my books.
We said our goodbyes to Lori outside Forbidden Planet, and then caught the subway
back to Penn Station. (No trip to New York is complete without a ride on the subway.)
We collected a copy of the Sunday New York Times, collected our bags, and
got onto the train for Washington, closing out a terrific -- if brief --visit to
New York. Both of us felt that the city had changed quite a bit for the better since
we had last been there. Everything from Times Square to the subway seemed cleaner,
better-cared-for, more pleasant to be in. It was as if a residue of grime and crud
had been sandblasted off Manhattan, so that the city beneath it was made visible
again. New York still has its warts -- it wouldn't be New York without them -- but
even so, the place has made quite a comeback.
After a reasonably comfortable train ride (considering the holiday crowds) Eleanore
and I arrived at Union Station, Washington D.C., at about 5:30, and immediately got
aboard the Metro (Washington's subway system) for the ride out to Bethesda, where
my parents, Tom and Scottie Allen, met us. By 6:30 pm we were in my parents' living
room, burrowing through our luggage for our gifts to them, and admiring their gifts
to us. We had diiner, and all sat up and talked for a while, but, with one thing
and another, Eleanore and I were a bit tired, so we turned in early. It didn't take
long for us to get to sleep.
Baltimore, Maryland: January 6, 1997. I am continuing to try and
catch up with what's happened so far. So far we are up to:
December 30, 1996. After the long day's travel from New York, we treated
ourselves to sleeping a bit late our first day in the Washington area. Unfortunately,
it was also the day some sort of flu bug decided to pay me a visit. I was the last
one down that morning, with bagels already being munched and the bustling well underway.
One thing on the shopping list for Eleanore and myself was a powerful room air-cleaner
that might help Eleanore with her cat alleries. I also wanted at least to see my
new book actually in a bookstore. So, despite my feeling a bit queasy, off we went
on a shopping expedition, which also included a visit to a fancy kitchen-gizmo shop,
where we got some good knives and measuring spoons and so on. We had to try two stores
before we found the air cleaner we were after, and while Borders's Books did indeed
have my book, they did not have it on the shelf, but on a high storage rack such
that a customer wishing to purchase it would require a trapeeze or a ladder in order
to get at it. A kindly clerk got the book down for me and put several copies out
on good display, but still, it was a trifle disheartening.
I was feeling progressively worse, my stomach very queasy, and when we got back I
took a long nap. While I ws asleep, Dad and Eleanore went off to the video store
and checked out two movies. The rest of the group had dinner, but, with an unsettled
stomach, I gave eating a miss. Unfortunately, the film we watched that evening was
Eat Drink Man Woman, a sweet and pleasant Taiwanese film -- and one about
a gourmet chef who cooks throughout. The film started with some rather graphic cooking
imagery -- the chef catching a carp, chopping its head off, skinning and gutting
it, catching and killing a chicken, plucking it and turning the carcase inside out
(God knows what recipe calls for that) and other such stomach-settling images.
However, beyond that, it was a sweet, jumbled, leisurely film about a big complicated
family, and we all liked it. I went up to bed as soon as it was over, but the rest
of the gang stayed up for a while.
December 31, 1996. I still wasn't feeling a hundred percent in the morning,
but I was able to eat, and I did have a bit more energy, which was a good thing,
considering the schedule for the latter part of the day. Once again, we got up in
a rather leisurely manner, and spent most of the morning pottering about, reading
books we had received as gifts, and catching up on family business. We dressed for
the evening at about three or so, and headed off to the National Gallery to see the
exhibit of works by the French artist La Tour. It was a good exhibit, and we were
glad to see it, but both for Eleanore and myself, part of the treat was getting to
see the National Gallery itself, and the splendid buildings on the Mall. It is a
beautiful place. From the Gallery we headed off toward the Ellipse behind the White
House to see the National Christmas Tree. Dad told us that the poor sports at People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had succeeded in ending the cruel explotation
of the deer (standing in for reindeer) who stood around in a pen eating. I would
assume the deer in question are now standing around in some other pen eating, so
I don't see how much difference it makes. The National Tree was lit up -- well, like
a Christmas Tree, with a wildly complicated series of blinking and flashing and throbbing
lights. Trees from all the States, Territories, D.C. and other small bits of the
United States lined the walk around the main tree, some decorated with classy slick
ornaments, others with folksy home-spun decorations.
From the Christmas Tree it was off to an early dinner before the theater. We found
ourselves a bit lost in the New Year's Eve shuffle, with all the restaurants gearing
up for a big midnight blowout. Some weren't even open, and the one we found that
was open clearly had its attention on midnight. We were seated right next to the
bandstand, and were serenaded for about twenty minutes by sound checks and level
adjustments. We were served a wholly mediocre (if not downright bad) meal by a staff
that would have done Faulty Towers proud (Faulty Towers being a fictious but terrible
hotel, with bad restaurant attached). We even drew a waiter who might have been the
character Manual from Faulty Towers. After a bit of a struggle, we actually got them
to surrender the bill (why are waiters always so reluctant to hand over the bill?)
and got to Arena Stage in good time for the 8:00 pm curtain of Tom Stoppard's
Arcadia, a complicated and charming play that takes place in two timelines at
once, each taking place in the same house -- a hundred plus years apart. We see one
scene of (more or less) what really happened in the 1800s, and then see one scene
of the somewhat bumbling contemporary scholars theorizing about it. Fun and interesting,
but the end sort of unravelled instead of coming together. Stoppard is always worth
watching -- and listening to -- but this was really the first time I had seen something
of his that take all the loose ends and tie them into a tidy and clever ending.
After the show, Eleanore and I dropped Mom and Dad off at the Gallery Place Metro
station, and then drove across the river to Arlington, Virginia. Eleanore's cousin
Lydia and her husband Jed were throwing a party, and of course we wanted to see them.
However, first we had to negotiate the tangled-spaghetti roads of Arlington. Every
road we traveled on to get there changed its name at least once as we drove. After
more or less the standard number of false starts and wrong turns, we finally got
to where we were going, with the party already going full-tilt It was a major blow-out,
with an incredibly loud and heavily amplifed two-man band shaking the rafters. A
lot of members of Eleanore's extended family were there, and we had the usual sort
of shouting-in-the-ear conversations one usually has at parties. The band stopped
long enough for everyone to watch Times Square -- where we had been about forty-eight
hours before -- as the ball dropped, the year started, and all hell broke loose.
We drank champagne and struggled to remember the words to Aulde Lang Syne, and then
got back to the serious business of being at a party. I had a nice chat with Jed,
made somewhat unusual by his being in their outdoor hot-tub as we talked, while I
was there in my go-to-the-theater coat and tie. Finally, at about 1:30 am, it was
time to go, and we made our way back to Bethesda by a route that took us almost past
the door of the house we had lived in before moving to Brazil. Strange indeed to
think of how large a circle we were closing.
Evanston, Illinois: January 7, 1996. Back to trying to report things
day-by-day until I get caught up.
January 1, 1997. For once, a relatively quiet day. The big event was a trip
to visit Eleanore's cousin Fontaine and her family, as Fontaine had not been able
to attend the party the night before. We met cousin Hari's fiancee, and had a good
visit chatting about the family and getting a tour of the renovations to the house
and so on. After a nice visit there, we returned home to my parents' house in time
to greet my old high-school friend Amy Kaplan. Amy has long since been more or less
adopted into the family, and dinner with her was a big event. She had just moved
house the day before, so it meant a lot for her to break away from all the things
that need doing when you move to come and visit. After dinner, my parents, Amy, Eleanore
and myself watched the other movie we had rented, The Brothers McMullen
, another family saga about a fairly goofy trio of very Irish brothers who lived
just outside New York City. It is one of those movies that got made on the director's
credit card plus next month's grocery money, and the non-existence of the budget
certainly showed in lots of places in lots of ways, but that was, in a way, a large
part of its charm. We could watch the three brother stumble their way through their
love-lives at the same time we saw all the funny little mistakes and budget-cutting
tricks the director had made. The next day was a school day, and Amy, a second-grade
teacher, had to leave before the movie was over (but she had seen it already). We
stopped the film long enough to say our goodbyes, finished watching it, and then
Dad and I drove to the video place and got both movies back -- for once, before there
were any late penalties to pay. Then back home, and then to bed.
January 2, 1997. Another day of errands, meetings, visits, and so on. My
mother drove Eleanore and I down to an optician's shop in Washington, where Eleanore
got her new prescription. From there we took the subway to Dupont Circle and did
the bookshops for an hour or so before catching a cab to the State Department and
our luncheon date. The timing for the lunch was a bit awkward, as ny sister was coming
in from Chicago at the same moment, but Eleanore and I had to leave it to my parents
to collect her, as the time she was arriving was just about the one and only time
we wuold have to see Seneca Johnson (who had been the maid of honor at our wedding).
I had had a chance to see Seneca since, but Eleanore and Seneca had literally not
laid eyes on each other since the day Eleanore and I were married. Furthermore, Seneca
had likewise gotten married to Eric, and neither Eleanore or myself had ever seen
him. So off we went to lunch with them. Seneca and Eric are both Foreign Service
officers, though they are posted to Washington at the moment. We met up with them
at State, after roaming the hallways and circling the building, inside and out, for
a bit longer than was strictly called for. We both immediately liked Eric, but, unfortunately,
he was coming down with the flu, which limited our lunch options somewhat. Still,
we made the best of it, and the four of us had a good visit. Seneca and Eric had
recently purchased a home, and gave Eleanore and myself a few good pointers on the
subject, as the two of us hope to be buying soon.
After we finished lunch and said our farewells, we took the subway back to Bethesda,
where my father picked us up at the station and drove us back home, to where Connie
and Mom were waiting for us. It was wonderful to see my sister again, and it meant
a lot to both of us that she had made the trip out to see us. We exchanged gifts
with Connie, and spent the rest of the afternoon getting caught up with her. Eleanore
had one major victory, in that she managed to get her ticket back to Brazil changed
from Friday to Saturday, which gave her an extra day to see everyone. But it was
soon time to head out to the theater once again. The theater is in Northern Virginia,
completely cut off from the outside world by a perfect rats-nest of exits and bypasses
and off-ramps. We got well and truly lost once again the moment we crossed the river
-- lost enough that we actually crossed it again, by accident, and a third time to
I should explain a bit about the theater itself, I suppose. Chris Henley, a friend
of mine from way back in the third grade(!) is now the Artistic Director of the Washington
Shakespeare Company, a very professional, if very low-budget, theater company that
had was just moving into its own building at the time Eleanore and I left Washington.
My parents, Connie, Eleanore and I met up with Chris's parents and two friends of
my parents at the WSC theater to see Cymbeline, which is very much one of
Shakespeare's "problem" plays. While the production took a few more liberties
than I liked, it was unquestionably well-acted and energetic, and managed to take
a complicated and even confused storyline and make it work. I was quite impressed.
Chris is very much at the heart of building a theater, and a theatrical company.
He and his company deserve success, and they seem to be getting it.
After the show, we all went to the Brickskeller, a ramshackle old place near Dupont
Circle famous for serving hundreds of different kinds of beer. I hadn't been there
in years, and it had not changed one bit. After a very pleasant evening, we all said
our good-nights and went home to bed.
January 3, 1997. We treated ourselves to a fairly leisurely morning. Dad
had to work, but Eleanore, Connie, Mom and I decided to take in the film The
Crucible. The night before, I had been the least enthused about Cymbeline
, but I found that I was the one who liked The Crucible the most. The others
seemed to feel that it was over the top, but I found it gripping and intense. There
were moments that seemed to date it, not so much to the Salem witch trials, but to
the 1950s and McCarthyism. The play on which the film was based was a cautionary
tale, and some of the warnings it offered spoke more to the 50's than the 90's --
though God knows we all still have to keep an eye on ourselves.
In the evening, Eleanore and I went to sit in on the monthly poker game that some
friends of mine hold. I had been in on establishing the monthly game some years ago,
and the group has been very steady and very loyal over the years. Most of the people
at the table have some sort of connection to the science fiction scene in the Washington
area, but what matters at that table is poker and fun. When you have played with
the same people for years on end, the game of poker changes into something else.
There's the old saying that you're playing against your opponent, and not her cards,
and that becomes truer every time we play together. The psychology of the other players
-- and their knowledge of your psychology -- becomes every bit as important as the
cards on the table. As I was down four bucks at the end of the night, and Eleanore
a bit more, it would seem that I have not learned that lesson as well as I might
One of the things that seems to happen whenever I visit a relative is that I get
called upon -- or volunteer -- to tweak up their computer system. I did a fair amount
of such tweaking at my in-laws place, and my father's system -- particularly his
hook-up to the Internet -- was somewhat muddled up. I had been struggling to get
a few things tidied up while visiting, which was difficult to do in between the mad
social whirl and my father's quite busy work schedule. I therefore took advantage
of everyone being asleep and stayed up until 3:30 am tweaking Dad's system up to
the point where he could get on line and get his email without a struggle. I was
not impressed with Microsoft's internet products from an ease-of-configuration standpoint.
Getting them set up was like untangling linguini.
January 4, 1997. And off we go again. Eleanore and I took the subway back
down to Dupont Circle again and met up with Heather Strand for breakfast at the Kramerbooks/Afterwords
bookstore and cafe. Heather used to work at the computer center at the embassy in
Brasilia, but she returned to the United States in September. She promptly landed
a job with a company that sends teams around the world to install new software at
U.S. Embassies and consulates. After an incredibly filling breakfast, and a quick
stop at a drug store, it was time to get back to Bethesda, with Heather in tow, for
a big lunch with Connie, my parents, Eleanore, Heather, my cousind Glenn Riling,
his wife Beverly, and their two kids, Geoffery and Jennifer. However, Eleanore and
I had all of an hour to seem them, as we had to get Eleanore to the airport for her
multi-flight trip back to Brazil. Our hellos seemed to merge right into our goodbyes
as we left in my parents' car, Heather coming along for the ride so we could drop
her at the subway at the airport.
They are rebuilding National Airport, and it had changed almost beyond recognition
since the last time I was there -- with the predictable result that we managed to
drive right through the airport without finding where we were going. That in turn
necessitated yet another adventure in Northern-Virginia navigation as we were dumped
back out onto the parkway and I had to drive miles in the wrong direction before
I found a place we could turn around. Northern Virginia is not exactly linear. However,
on the second try, we got there, and saw Heather to the subway before Eleanore and
I made the rather confused and over-long trek to the Delta terminal. We were very
early, and her flight was a bit late, so we had some time in hand, which suited us
both quite well. We had not had much time by ourselves, or much peace and quiet,
in the previous few days, and we got a chance to say a calmer goodbye that we might
have expected. I must admit, however, that I started missing her awfully fast, once
she did head down the jetway. Nor was she likely to enjoy the next twenty hours,
once she started flying. It's a long, long, trip back to Brasilia.
Once I had said my goodbyes to Eleanore, I drove back to Bethesda, arriving just
a few minutes too late to catch Glenn's family as they departed. That night Amy joined
Connie, my parents and myself as we went into downtown Bethesda to grab a bite to
eat and see a movie. However, it sems that Bethesda has turned in a yuppie theme-park,
with gimmick bars and restaurants everywhere. We tried to get in at the latest and
greatest brew-pub, but the place was too damned crowded, and we headed straight for
the movie theater, which was one of those places with waitress service and beer-and-pizza
type food on sale, so we got our beer anyway. The film was Barbra Streisand's
The Mirror Has Two Faces, and Dad, who was the only one who didn't want to see
it, was the only one who was right. It was awful, one of the worst big-studio films
I have ever seen. Bad dialog, bad camera work, bad acting, bad everything. Streisand's
ego was in all the scenes, even the ones she herself was not in. Every frame of the
film was there to make her look good, and she seemed to think that the best way to
do this was to make sure everyone else in the film was an editor, and that they laughed
too long at her jokes, and were implausibly struck by how wonderful she looked, and
so on. There were shots where boom-mikes bobbled into view, where the camera shot
over the top of the set, where the dialog was babbled so fast it was utterly incoherent.
God-awful. But we all had a good time hating it.
January 5, 1997. Connie had to head back to Chicago via train. Plan A had
been for me to travel with Connie on the train, but there were no seats available.
Therefore I decided to fly out to Chicago the day after Connie left. It took a few
calls to the airlines, but after a bit of effort, I got a flight at a reasonable
cost. Before Connie left, there was one last Christmas shopping trip that needed
doing. Mom and Dad had wanted to get Connie a new book-bag for graduate school, (she
is studying speech pathology) but they wanted her to pick it out for herself, and
this was her big chance. After we all wandered in and out of a few stores, she settled
on a very nice leather backpack. I managed to sneak into an auto-parts store and
get some touch-up paint for our Jeep down in Brazil. I even snuck into yet another
bookstore, and actually saw my book there on the shelf, on sale. The four of us had
lunch at a bagel joint on Rockville Pike, and then saw Connie off at the Rockville
train station. On the way back, we managed to check off a couple of errands that
had been floating over our heads. My parents got a replacement pair of binoculars,
and I got an upgrade kit for my scanner software back in Brazil. Back home again,
we treated ourselves to a quiet evening of nothing more exciting than my making a
start on getting my various purchases organized and packed up for mailing to Brazil,
and me packed up for my own trip to Chicago the next day.
January 6, 1997. Another complicated day. The plan was for me to join my
parents at the National Press Club luncheon, then for them to drive me direct to
Baltimore Washington International Airport for the trip to Chicago. This worked out,
but got more complicated. Dad had to meet with his partner, Norman Polmar, to do
some inserts for the reprinted edition of their latest work, Spy Book, an
encyclopedia of espionage. That meant he had to head off early by car and meet us
at the Press Club (and, I might add, the reception for Eleanore and my wedding was
held at the Press Club) in time for lunch, while Mom and I took the subway. That
part worked out all right, but it turned out that Dad and Norman needed more time.
Dad couldn't join us for the trip to the airport. Instead he gave us the keys to
the car and described where he had parked the car. After the luncheon speech, by
Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN (and a very interesting talk it was) we said farewell
to Dad, and then set off in search of the car. Either Dad had gotten the directions
a bit muddled, or else we had misunderstood them, but the upshot was that Mom and
I wandered around the streets surrounding the Press Club for about a half hour before
we finally found the car and took off.
Even with that delay, we got to BWI in good time. Mom dropped me off, I waded through
a long line to get my ticket, had a quite pleasant chat with a young man who ran
track at his college on the flight, and was collected at the airport by my brother-in-law,
Jim Witte. He and I did a quick bit of catching up with each other on the ride from
O'Hare Airport to Evanston. We had tried to make my arrival a surprise for the younger
set, but I'm afraid we weren't quite able to fool them. Aaron, Victoria, and Jonathan
were very happy to see me, but not at all astonished. I hadn't seen any of them in
about a year, and just getting to see them again was one of the best parts of the
trip. We played a game or two of pick-up sticks, and I admired the beanie-baby stuffed
animals and the real-animal gerbils, and just generally hung out with the kids.
After they all got shuffled off to bed, Jim put me to work fiddling with his computer.
I got the faster modem to work, and the sound board to run, and cleaned some other
garbage off the system, and then went to bed.
January 7, 1997. Today was a bad-news day. Just after Connie and I returned
from getting the kids to school, we got a phone call from Mom, who had just heard
from our sister-in-law Edie that Edie's father had died the night before. Mom was
already making plans to head down to Chapel Hill, where my brother Chris and Edie,
his wife, live. Mom wanted to look after their children while Chris and Edie went
to the funeral in Florida. The logistics of the trip were complicated by the fact
that Chris and Edie's kids -- Benton, Meredith, and baby Anna -- are in various stages
of catching and recovering from chicken pox. That pretty much means they couldn't
travel to the funeral. Not only would the trip be uncomfortable for them, but there
would be several other small children and at least one pregnant woman at the funeral,
and the risk of infecting someone would be quite high. I had planned to head down
for a visit with Chris and Edie's family tomorrow, the day I got back from Chicago,
but obviously we had to cancel that trip, at least until other more pressing problems
are sorted out. As I write this, all plans are very much up in the air, and we'll
just have to see.
Once the kids were off to school, and Connie was off to her classes, and Jim was
off to teach his (he is a sociology professor), I was pretty much on my own. I spent
a large part of today getting caught up on this journal. I took the dog, Susie Fudd,
for a nice long walk in the freezing cold weather (the first real cold I've been
in this trip) and generally spent a quiet day -- followed by a very noisy evening
and dinner, once the kids got home from school. Tomorrow, back to Bethesda.
National Airport, just outside Washington, D.C.: January 10, 1997.
Here I am, in yet another airport, waiting for yet another flight. Let's go back
and cover the last couple of days, which were reasonably quiet.
January 8, 1997 I woke up and joined the general bustling-around of everyone
getting ready for school. I had taken Susie Fudd, their basset hound, for two walks
the first day I was there, and I took her for a one last quick jaunt before leaving.
I had played homework monitor for Aaron's pre-algebra the night before, and I did
the same job for Jonathan's beginning addition and practice at telling time in the
morning. I got myself packed up in reasonable good order, and said farewell to Aaron
as he walked off to his school, and to Connie as Jim drove her off to her classes.
He came back to collect Jonathan, Victoria, and myself. We drove them to their school,
and walked them across the playground. Victoria had ignored my advice the day before,
and had failed to try licking the flagpole in the 10-degree Fahrenheit weather, but
theay rushed inside so far I didn't even get a chance to urge her to try it again.
Jim and I made a panic stop at Office Depot to return an Christmas-present upgrade
chip for his computer (it didn't fit) and then off to the subway, where I said my
goodbyes to Jim and more or less bumbled my way onto the right train. One very kindly
woman suggested a wildly complicated route to O'Hare Airport that would have seen
me more or less circling Chicago via train and bus. Then an equally well-intentioned
but much better informed young man told me I was in exactly the right place for exactly
the right train, which he himself was going to take. He and I got into conversation
during the ride, and he said that he'd like to find a job that would let him go oversees.
Very much to my own surprise, I found myself suggesting that he consider the Foreign
Service. I'll freely admit that being a Foreign Service wife (and yes, I mean wife,
not husband or spouse) is not my cup of tea, it has something to be said for it,
if one is young and smart and wants to see the world. Maybe nothing will come of
our little chat on the subway, or maybe I made a casual suggestion that will change
his life. Who knows?
I drew a window seat, and had a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and the frozen
landscape on either side of it as we took off from O'Hare. The flight back to BWI
was quite uneventful, outside of a bit of turbulence, and the it turned out that
the airport shuttle bus I was on had me for its only customer, so the driver, Robert,
and I spent the ride back to Bethesda telling each other our life stories. It's beem
my experience that people who drive for a living either love to talk or hate it.
The trick is in drawing the right sort, depending on what mood you're in.
Dad hadn't gotten back by the time I got home, but he phoned in and we arranged to
meet up and go catch a flick. As it turned out, we were fated to see to see what
turned out to be yet another awful movies. Before we left Brazil, I had seen a few
things here and there about all the good movies coming out, and had vowed to spend
my entire vacation in movie theaters. It seemed as if I was managing to do that,
at the price of seeing some real stinkers. This time out it was Mars Attacks
, a wacky idea that should have been fun, but turned out to have one joke (killer
Martians shoot their guns at dumb people) no plot, and not much of a ending. It was,
quite literally, based on a series of bubble-gum cards, and I suspect that the bubble-gum
cards were more tightly plotted.
January 9, 1997 I spent a fair amount of the day just getting fiddling little
things dones, the sort of stuff that just stacks up after a while, and the sorts
of thing that you mean to do early on that get put off on this sort of trip. I wrote
a bunch of letters, I got a hotel room lined up for my forthcoming trip to London,
got a little caught up on laundry, and did some backing-up on computer stuff. Dad
was out at meeting again, but once again we decided to try and catch a movie. (It
is something of a tradition between Dad and myself to get together and go see the
movies Mom would not want to see, whenever she is out of town.) First, though, we
were both in need of a haircut, so we walked into central Bethesda, and each of us
got a trim. The news was on in the barbershop, and there were big reports about a
plane crash outside Detroit. We had planned to have dinner at a nearby Vietnamese
restaurant, and as soon as we got to it, I phoned Eleanore in Brasilia to let her
know I was not on that flight. (I knew Eleanore would have known that I was flying
to London via Detroit, but that she probably wouldn't be sure of the date or the
airline.) Dad and I had a really first-class meal, and then it was off to the movies.
After the stinkers we had seen recently, we were both nervous, but This time we got
lucky with Ransom. It is a longish movie, but tightly plotted and full of
surprise twists and turns, none of which I will reveal here. I will say that Mel
Gibson was good, but Gary Sinise was better. One of the supporting characters, the
lead FBI agent on the case, was played by one of those superb character actors you've
seen before but can't quite place. Whoever he was, he was terrific. We walked home
again after the film, and I set to work writing more letters. I sent a fax or two,
and started getting ready for my trip to London.
I suppose it is time I said a bit about why the heck I am going to London, especially
just for a few days, after all the time on the road (and in the air) I have put in
already. It seems a bit over the top, even to me. There are three big reasons I am
going. The first reason is just an extension of what has driven most of this trip
-- the huge, gaping absence of anything to do in Brasilia, along with, needless to
say, the huge distances from our families. When Eleanore and/or myself manage to
get out of Brasilia for any length of time, we struggle to squeeze in as much activity,
and as much family, as we possibly can. We don't get many chances to bust loose,
so we tend to bust all the way loose when we can. If all goes well, we will get to
see Carnival in Rio, but aside from that, it is likely to be quite a long spell indeed
before we get to see anything more exciting than the termite mounds in the vacant
lot across from the embassy.
The second reason is that I have a lot a friends in London, and it'll be nice to
see them all. The third reason, of course, is London itself. He who is tired of London
is tired of life. It is a wonderful place, everything that a city should be -- everything
that Brasilia is not.
January 10, 1997 Anyway. I got up this morning at about 6:30 for no apparent
reason, and had breakfast with Dad. He left about 8:30, off to meeting at the National
Geographic. It occurs to me that there's been sort of a family count-down in progress
since Eleanore left. We started with quite a full house, but one by one we've all
left. I saw Eleanore, Connie (myself for a day or two, and returning), Mom, and then
Dad go off elsewhere. By now, Dad has returned to a very empty house that was quite
full a few days ago.
After getting the last of the fiddling details, and checking for the zillionth time
to make sure I had the big three -- passports, tickets, and money -- I headed off
toward the subway on foot (Mom is still at my brother's house in North Carolina,
and has the car) for the subway, with a slight detour to Stronsider's Hardware, where
I picked up a British plug adaptor for my laptop's power supply, along with a few
other odds and ends for use in Brasilia. (I'll bet I'm the only guy who bought hummingbird
food in January in Bethesda, Maryland). Then off to the subway, and thus back once
again to National Airport.
As I write this, I am quite literally up in the air, headed for Detroit, where, for
some reason, my flight to London starts from. I am not, however, on the right flight
to Detroit, as that flight was canceled in between the time I checked in for it and
the time I got back to the gate. There was a mechanical problem with the aircraft.
I expect that everyone is a bit skittish after the crash yesterday. These things
happen now and again when you fly, and I've been quite lucky about connections and
schedules so far.
Later, somewhere over Michigan and points east and north... (I had to quit
writing when they asked for all electronic devices to be switched off, etc.) Well,
that was exciting, and then whacking dull. The Washington-Detroit leg of the flight,
on the later flight I grabbed in lieu of the canceled one, ran so late that I had
all of forty minutes to get through about a half mile of terminal corridor and get
re-ticketed for the later flight to London. I managed all that with a bit of time
to spare, then sat for well over an hour and a half waiting for baggage to get loaded
and for the plane to get de-iced. At long last all was ready, and we are finally
in the air and on the way. My next report should be from London, or thereabouts.
London, England: January 13, 1997. Here's an account of the last
January 11, 1997. There are tolerable and godawful flights across the Atlantic,
but vanishingly few good flights, especially in coach. My flight rated somewhere
well along toward the godawful end of the scale. I was trapped in a window seat,
the way to the aisle quite effectively blocked by a man with a very strong sense
of personal territory and the ability to sleep soundly on aircraft. I am just about
six feet tall, with long legs and size fourteen feet (I believe that's size 46 metric).
It is therefore nearly impossible to fold myself into any sort of comfortable position
in a coach-size airplane seat. I did doze off somewhat, but just fitfully. I did,
however, manage to sleep through breakfast. We landed about two hours late, and after
prying myself out of my seat before rigor mortis set in for good and all, I sloped
through the passport and customs formalties and caught the express train from Gatwick
Airport to Victoria Station. There I made my first purchase in London, and it was
something that I expect will elicit low moans from my wife: eight new-to-me episodes
of The Goon Show, a deranged 1950s BBC radio comedy show. From Victoria
I took the Underground to Piccadilly Circus and checked into the shabby-but-cheap
Regent Palace Hotel. (I was expecting no bath or shower in the room, but I wasn't
expecting the showers down the hall to be locked. You have to call the front desk,
and a maid appears at the door of your room. She escorts you down the hall to the
shower, unlocks it for you, and issues you a towel. Offputting.)
Thanks to my flight being late, I I just barely had time to unpack before it was
time to charge out to meet up with my old chum, Mandy Slater. (The third of my three
Star Wars novels is dedicated to her.) We had a good late lunch and exchanged Christmas
gifts (I gave her the new Bare Naked Ladies CD (and no, there are no real
naked ladies involved -- the band name is a joke. She gave me a Wallace and Gromit
calender, which pleased me no end.) We did a couple of the local bookshops,
and then Mandy traveled with me back to Piccadilly Circus. We pottered about in the
record shops for a bit, but then Mandy had to be going, and I was pretty much dead
on my feet. I managed to say up until about 9:30 -- trying to stay up as late as
I could, trying to break the back of my jet lag. I was alseep as soon as my head
hit the pillow -- and then woke up again at 11:30 pm (which would be 5:30 am back
on the U.S. east coast) and could not get back to sleep until about 3:30 am. Unfortunately,
there was a fire alarm at 5:30 am. By the time the alarm bell managed to wake me
and I had gotten dressed and staggered down the hall, the all-clear had been sounded
(a false alarm, apparently) other people were already coming back in. I went back
to bed, and finally got some more or less uninterupted sleep.
January 12, 1997. Once I was asleep, I was really asleep, and barely woke
up in time to catch the end of breakfast at 10:30. After a leisurely (if not altogether
appetizing) meal of greasy undercooked bacon, eggs, and sausage) I went out to visit
Jim Young, a diplomat at the U.S. embassy. Jim, as it happens, lives in the same
apartment building (or block of flats, as they would call it here) as Eleanore, and
has the flat directly over hers. It was strange to look out his kitchen window and
see the same view as I had had out Eleanore's window from the desk I had done my
Jim is a U.S. diplomat, but his is also a science-fiction writer, and we have a number
of mutual friends in both worlds. We spent a good hour or so swapping gossip and
talking literary and government shop. I left from Jim's and headed directly for dinner
with Mandy and her boyfriend Stephen Jones at their house in Wembley, in North London.
Stephen is a good-sized fish in the horror fiction pond, which is of course a near
neighbor to the science fictin pond. Mandy, to stretch my imagery a bit too far,
swims in both. It was a genuine pleasure to spend the afternoon and evening talking
with people who quite spoke my language, literally and figuratively. One of the problems
with being in Brasilia is the sense of being disconnected, of not knowing what is
going on. Getting caught up on the doings of the writing world (or at least my little
part of it) was a definite morale booster.
Back to Piccadilly after a long, leisurely dinner. I strolled about for a bit, with
no real goal in mind, and then back to my surreal hotel. I went to the lobby payphones
and put in a call to the Gardner family. They lived in Brasilia up until last year,
and have now popped up in Yorkshire. I wasn't able to make the trip north to see
them, but at least we managed to get caught up on the phone. Back up to my room,
where I watched the movie The Big Easy on TV and even got some actual writing done
on the book I'm supposed to be writing. Then off to sleep, though once again the
time-zone change kept me up for a while.
January 13, 1997. Wandered as far as the nearest Dillon's Bookshop and
collected a book or two, then back to the hotel restaurant for another leaden-but-filling
breakfast. I dawdled about until one pm, which is when the hal-price theater ticket
booth opens. However, there were no tickets there for the show I wanted, so I went
over to the theather and bought two of the full-price articles there. Then off for
a long walk with a mission. I walked down to Pall Mall, took in Waterloo Place, and
then walked along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, (stopping in the National Gallery
bookshop) then past St. Martin's in the Field and Charing Cross and along the Strand
to Fleet Street, until I reached my goal: Twining's Tea Shop. Twining has does business
from this one location since 1706, if memory serves. Eleanore had told me to go there,
and on place else, to get her some proper tea. I walked on a bit further past the
tea shop, and wandered about the Inns of Court before heading back -- stopping at
a few more bookshops on the way. I got back to my hotel in good time to freshen up
a bit before meeting Louise Rickett for dinner. Louise is with the British Foreign
Office, and was posted to Brasilia until last summer. Eleanore and I became good
friends with her. She looked great, and had a very pleasant dinner together before
stepping across the street to see Talking Heads, a sort-of play by Alan
Bennet -- though "performance piece" might be a more accurate way to describe
what we saw. Bennet wrote six monologues for television some years ago, and two of
them were being presented -- Soldiering On and Bed Among The Lentils
. The two pieces were quite independent of each other, one presented by one actress
before the interval, and the second by another actress after the interval. (Maggie
Smith performed the second piece.)
Both were well-written and well-acted, but I do think their origins as pieces for
television showed up a weakness or two. On television the monologist could indeed
be presented as talking heads in close-up and in various tight shots. Stage action
consisted of very little more than the character walking on and off stage two or
three times to indicate the passage of time. Basically each woman stood or sat and
talked to the audience in front of an extremely simple set.
To my mind, both monologues also exhibited the odd pleasure the English seem to derive
from Being Doomed. Each monologues concerned itself with the fact that the speaking
character's life was falling apart, more or less without the character really understanding
that to be the case. Things started out not-all-that-well for both characters, and
ended up rather bad, with the clear suggestion that the gentle -- and not-so-gentle
-- decline would continue. Life was presented as little more than the process of
things gradually crumbling to bits. I said as much to Louise, and she asked me how
an American playwright would have written the pieces. After a moment's thought, and
only half-faecetiously, I told her that the American version would have ended either
with the character triumphing over adversity, or else blowing her brains out -- and
of course, at least one, and probably both, of the monologues would have included
mention of a homosexual love affair. Louise and I had coffee after the show, and
then said our goodbyes. I returned to the hotel, and so to bed.
January 14, 1997. Got myself up and out in relatively good order in time
for a meeting with my British literary agent, Leslie Gardner, whom I had never met
before. While there was no immediate business to transact, it was extremely useful
to sit down with her, discuss the book I am working on now and the books I would
like to do next, and just generally get to know each other. Leslie and I had never
met before, but after our meeting I felt quite confident about working with her in
Back to the hotel to get out of my going-to-a-meeting clothes and back into my rumpled-tourist
clothes. Then I took the tube over to Oxford Circus, and walked along Oxford Street,
and down North Audley Street to the American Embassy, better known to myself as The
Fortress of Arrogance, or FoA. I had of course met up with Eleanore many times when
she worked at the FoA, and it had been two years or so since I had last been in that
neck of the woods. I wanted to see what was the same, and what different, in that
neck of the woods. Most things were pretty much the same, though one or two stores
had come and gone, and the utterly ghastly burger joint, American Burger, had turned
itself into the American Bistro Cafe, with American Burger (or AmHam as we called
it) quite literally kicked upstairs to the upper floor.) The only restaurant name
I saw in London that maded less sense was one in Piccadilly -- Alabama Pizza Pasta.
I never knew that Alabama was famous for Italian food.) In any event, I got over
to the FoA, and, sure enough, it was still there. I was just about to head off when
Barbara Stevenson, a secretary at the Embassy, came out of the building, spotted
me, and called to me. She was feeling a bit under the weather and was headed home
early, but we went to one of the coffee shops on North Audley and visted for a bit
before she went on her way.
After we said our farewells, I went on to Selfridges to pick up some Leonidas coffee
creams for Seneca Johnson (she had more or less lived on then while posted to London.
I probably won't have a chance to deliver them myself whilst in Washington, but I
can leave at my parents and she she can come collect them. Once I was done at Selfridges,
I took the tube from Bond Street to Tottenham Court Road, poked my head in at Forbidden
Planet, one of the big science fiction stores in London, then wandered up Tottenham
Court Road and down Charing Cross over to Leicester Square. Mandy and Stephen were
meeting up with some of their friends to go to a sneak preview of Mars Attacks (it
hasn't opened in London yet) and I had a chance for one last visit with them before
I had to be on my way.
I took the Tube from Leicester Square to Finchley Road station, and walked from there
to the home of Tracy and Jonathan Potter. Tracy and Eleanore wree in the same choir
together when Eleanore was posted to London. Tracy and Jonathan were just barely
engaged when Eleanore left London, but they are now not only married, but have a
three-month-old daughter, Katherine. Tracy and Eleanore became good friends during
Eleanore's time in London, but I never really got the chance to know her very well,
I had never met Jonathan before -- and I was not even aware of Katherine's existence
before I phoned in to Tracy. It was a good get-to-know-you sort of dinner. Tracy
gave me a cassette tape of the present-day version of the choir Eleanore was in,
and I took a couple of photos of the brand-new family. After dinner I walked down
Finchley Road to the Swiss Cottage Tube station, once again noting what had changed
and what had stayed the same. The ironmonger's (hardware store) seemed to have vanished,
one take-away deli had turned into a cafe, and a failed restaurant had turned into
a smart spot, but that was about it. I caught the tube back to Piccadilly Circus,
did last wander around Leicester Square and Piccadilly, then back to my hotel. I
asked for a 7:30 wake-up call and went to bed in hopes of a good night's sleep as
I was flying out the next morning -- or so I thought.
January 15, 1997. I got my wake-up call, gradually scraped myself out of
bed, packed, went down to have one last deadly breakfast, got the bags out my room,
checked out, and staggered out to say my farewells to London. I took the Tube to
Victoria Station, wandered about in a luggage-laden circle or two until I found the
right track and ticket booth for Gatwick, then caught the 10:15 shuttle train to
Gatwick. I struck up a conversation with Marian, a nice grandmotherly American lady
who turned out to be a fellow passenger on the same flight. As it turned out, we
would have a lot of chance to get to know each other. We found the right spot to
check in, got our seat assignments, and then were told not to pass through passport
control "just yet" as there might be a slight delay before the flight was
ready. It was about four pm before we discovered that they had canceled the flight
They assembled the whole herd of passengers, got us onto shuttle buses, and drove
us to a hotel in Brighton. Brighton? Brighton. I had called my parents once it looked
like the flight was in bad shape, and I called them again from Brighton to tell them
I would be at least twenty-four hours late. I had deliberately left my ticket to
Brazil at their house, so I couldn't lose it. I asked them to call the airlines and
push back my Brazil departure by twenty-four hours as well. Then I dumped my hand
luggage in my room (the airline had kept our hand-luggage) and went for a walk along
the English Channel. I went down onto the shore, scrabbled down the rock-shingle
beach and dipped a desert-booted toe and my hand into the Channel, collected a souvenier
rock or two, and the walked on whatever it is they call it instead of the boardwalk
toward the Palace Pier. I found myself laughing out loud. At the moment I was supposed
to be arriving in Detroit, I was strolling along the sea at Brighton -- and Brighton's
seaside pattern (reading from ocean to shore) was water, beach, cabanas, sidewalk,
road, sidewalk, wall-of-hotels was exactly the same as I had seen in Rio de Janerio
a few months before. Aside from being exactly alike the two were, of course, totally
different from each other. A wonderful mass of incongruities.
I had seen the English Channel piers in any number of movies and television shows,
and here they were, as big as life and just like in the movies. I walked the length
of the pier, and then went back to the hotel for a set meal with my fellow refugees,
a collection of thrown-together travelers as random as anything Chaucer wrote about.
I said my goodnights and went up to my room to rinse out my one set of underwear
and socks, and enjoy the luxury of taking a shower without having to call down to
the front desk for permission. I hung my socks and undies over the radiator, flip
on the telly and, for no good reason, watch the incredibly bad movie Judge Dredd.
What the devil could they have been thinking of? Lurid sets, over-the-top acting,
semi-cheesy special effects and lots of explosions do not a movie make. Bedtime.
January 16, 1997. A long day (and one not yet over) that I ought to be
able to sum up very quickly. I got my wakeup call, packed my few belongings, took
one last look at Brighton, and bundled onto the bus with the rest of the refugees.
We got to the airport in good order check in again, and I sure I'm not the only one
who could not believe it when the departures board actually showed Northwest Flight
33 assigned to a gate and scheduled to leave on time. I herded onto the plane with
the rest of yesterday's passengers, mixed in with today's assembly (and two days
of passengers still wasn't enough to fill up the plane) and we actually took off.
It was an eight-hour flight, with the reading lights not working at all, and the
video system not working well, but I found myself seated nexted to a a charming Indian
woman, and conversation made the time pass more quickly. We reached Detroit, waited
longer than we should have for our luggage, and then it was time to walk the half
mile or so from one end of the terminal to the other. My flight to Washington was
allegedly on time, and I phoned in to my parents to let them know what continent
I was on,, and to confirm that they had managed to change my tickets for Brazil.
They had. However, it turns out they have concert tickets for tonight, so they won't
be able to pick me up. No big deal. And naturally, my flight was delayed by an hour
or so for no good reason. And here I am, in the air between Detroit and Washington
as I bring this journal up to date, and even up to the minute. It's 9:10 Eastern
time on Thursday, January 16 1997, and I'm beat.
Bethesda, Maryland: January 16, 1997. The flight from Detroit to
DC got in late, naturally. Luggage vanished for 45 minutes. Northwest personnel clearly
didn't care. Did not get home to my parents' house until 11:30 p.m. They had just
come in the door from their concert. We said ours hellos and visited for a bit, then
I showered (without having to clear it with the front desk), staggered up to bed,
and fell asleep.
Sao Paulo, Brazil: January 19, 1997, 10:06 a.m. Nearly there. And
rest assured that the only "there" I am interested in at this point is
home, which means (a) where Eleanore is and (b) I can unpack my suitcases altogether
and put them away. Home is where I can stop worrying about visas, passports, flight
schedules, reservations, baggage claim checks, and carrying enough double-A batteries
to keep my palmtop computer going. At the moment, the place meeting that description
is, God help me, Brasilia. My father said yesterday that there were only two places
on Earth that he had been but had no desire to go again. One of them was Resolute
Bay in Artic Canada, and the other was Brasilia. And this from a man who traveled
by train between Irkutz and Ulan Bator, who lived for months on end on a diet of
horse-meat and fermented mare's milk in Mongolia, who went to part of Western China
that were so hot the heels melted off his shoes. But, for all of that, I want to
go Brasilia. And they won't let me. At least not for a while. My flight got in here
at 8:00 am, and those clever little weasels at Varig put me on the "connecting"
flight to Brasilia at 2:00 p.m., arriving 3:30 p.m. What joy, especially after an
all-night flight, to wait eight hours for a ninety-minute flight. No chance at an
earlier flight either. At least it gives me a chance to get this journal up to date.
January 17, 1997. Didn't sleep all that late, considering. Spent a fair
part of the morning trying to get my Epson laptop computer ready to hand over to
Carl. Which leads me to a not-so-brief digression on The Adventure of The Dropped
The Epson laptop is a good machine, but is sort of my third-tier backup. I expect
to need once I am back in the States, but until then it is pretty much a surplus
machine. I had loaned it to Heather, who brought it back to the U.S. when she moved
from Brasilia. As she is now working with a company that installs computer software,
she doesn't need it. I think it was Eleanore who suggested I slip it to Carl, for
purposes of sending and receiving email to and from Joan -- and a good idea it was
too. Unfortunately, I decided to bring the computer to take the thing with me to
London, where I not only didn't really need it, but also dropped it. After being
dropped, its hard drive made much more noise, and started having problems saving
data. The data problems became apparent as I started setting up the machine for Carl.
If I handed it over to him with the original hard drive, I was just about guaranteeing
that it would crash on him, probably at a bad moment. Nor would it be much good to
me, back in the States come fall. After a few phone calls, I tracked down a replacement
drive in Rockville, about a twenty-minute drive from my parents.
Dad had to go to Staples, and I tagged along with him, and finally swallowed hard
and bought myself a copy of Windows 95. I don't like Win95, but there are certain
projects I need to do, and they will more or less require it. Back to my parents
for lunch, then off to Rockville for the replacement hard drive and a few other odds
and ends. Back home again, and then it was merely a simple matter of hooking up my
ZIP drive to the Epson, running the ZIP drive install program, copying the entire
contents of the Epson's hard drive to a ZIP disk, creating a DOS boot disk for the
Epson, opening up the Epson, unscrewing and unplugging the various connections to
the old drive, installing the new drive, telling the Epson's setup program about
the sector, track, LZ and disk size parameters for the new drive, running FDISK on
the new drive, formating it, and copying the entire contents of the old drive off
the ZIP drive to the new drive -- followed by a bit of tweaking and tidying up of
the drive's contents, and reassembly of the computer. The old drive held 120 megs
of info. The new one hold 540 megs (it was the smallest drive I could find). As there
was only 80 megs worth of stuff on the old drive, no prob fitting it all on the new
one. Problem solved.
In the midst of doing the above, who should call in but Carl Fox himself. My parents
and I arrange to meet him for dinner in Friendship Heights (a neighborhood in Washington)
and then head off to see the new Woody Allen movie, Everyone Says I Love You
. After being slowed up by a phone call that came in just as we were heading out
the door, we got to the restaurant just a bit late, to find Carl had beaten us there.
The four of us had a great dinner, with Carl catching us up on the start of his courses
at the Foreign Service Institute, and Dad getting us up to date on his forthcoming
trip (and I am not making this up) to a locale off the coast of New Zealand, where
he will cover a high-tech search for the semi-mythical giant squid for the National
Then it was off to see the movie, which is a light-hearted and very engaging bit
of cheery fluff. Woody Allen wrote a musical, but then cast a collection of actors
who can't sing all that well -- or at all. (And Allen himself very definitely fits
into the second category. Oddly enough, it worked, thanks in large part to a troupe
of Broadway pros who blow the doors off two or three big production numbers. But
even the somewhat reedy voices of the main leads worked, adding an odd touch of autheticity
to the implausible goings-on. Good fun.
We said our farewells to Carl and went back home. I really should have stayed up
and gotten started on my packing, but I was just too damn beat, and went straight
up to bed, setting the alarm for 6:00 a.m.
January 18, 1997. I woke up before the alarm, but lolled in bed until
the alarm went off. The day was more or less taken up completely with getting ready
to go -- and packing was really the least part of it. With Dad's permission, I had
used his computer for various things, and I had to clean all my files off it. I had
to type up notes for Carl to get him squared away on the Epson. I had to pack up
the three or four boxes of stuff (books, mostly) that I was mailing back to Brazil.
I had to get two or three other things ready to get into the mail. I had to weed
out all the various bits and bobs and gifts and purchases we won't need until we
get back from Brazil in August, and put them out of the way. The suitcase packing
came right at the end, and was the easy part. Mom, Dad and I left for National Airport
later than planned, but still in plenty of time.
The new traffic patterns at National threw Dad off us, just as they had thrown me
off, and he made exactly the same wrong turn I had two weeks before, and suddenly
found himself driving right through the airport, just as I had. Even with all of
that, we got to the gate in good time. We said our goodbyes -- rather calm goodbyes,
all things considered -- and I got onto a very empty flight to Atlanta. From Atlanta,
I tried to call a series of old chums I had being meaning to catch up with, and instead
had a series of nice chats with their answering machines. Then onto yet another big
silver bird for the very crowded flight back to Darkest Brazil.
January 19, 1997. After the standard meal of rubber chicken and the usual
fitful snatches of sort-of sleep, our flight got in. The international arrivals hall
at Sao Paulo was a madhouse, packed to the gills, with seemingly every Brazilian
struggling to get at least one mid-sized appliance through customs. I might add that
I thought I had two big suitcases until I saw the behemoths the locals were lugging.
There also seemed to be a lot of skin-tight spandex in the airport this morning,
much -- but not all -- of it on women who can get away with it. The most startling
sight so far was the woman with the jet-black skin-tight spandex top and the skin-tight
dark-orange spandex shorts. What really made her something to see was the fact that
she was about eight months pregnant. She looked a bit like a cross-holiday ornament
-- an Easter egg done up in Halloween colors.
Anyway, that gets us just about up to date. Two or three more hours of hurry-up-and-wait,
one last flight, and the end will be in sight. Barring flight delays, plane crashes,
etc, my next entry should be from HOME.
Brasilia, Brazil: January 20, 1997. And home it is. One last flight,
seated next to an American engineer from GTE who was here to look into bidding on
licenses for Brazil's next-generation celluar phone service. Good luck to him, says
My usual rule is to eat whatever I am offerd while traveling, but this time I was
headed home, and therefore passed on the chicken-substitute dinner, which was more
or less identical to the chicken substitute dinner I had been served on my flight
the evening before. Eleanore was there to meet my jet-lagged self at the airport,
and she drove me home. She's fine, the cats are fine, I slept in my own (government-issue)
bed last night, and the trip is over and done.
I had no idea this journal would run this long when I started it. I must admit that
one reason I did it was to document my impression from previous trips that I seem
to do a lot. Now, I suppose, it's time to settle into not doing much at all, as that
is the basis of life in Brasilia. But I'll certainly have a month of events, adventures,
visits with friends -- and far too many rides on airplanes -- to think back on.
And now, back to my regular life, at least for a while.
Roger MacBride Allen, January 20, 1997 Brasilia, Brazil
Most recent revision: 8:13 p.m., January 20, 1997
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