Royal Pain in the Ass

April 29, 2011

Bladebone Inn, Bucklebury, England

8:30 a.m. through ENTIRE DAY

Notable Matter: Old woman dressed as the Queen of England; royalists; racing ducks; trotting sheep; old men dancing around, bells on ankles, hankies in hand.  

“The beer tent will open at 10 o’clock with the duck race,” says the Royal Wedding announcer who has been talking about beer since 8:30 a.m. with good reason. We’re – myself, a few residents of this tiny town and 30 media hacks – are waiting to pack into a tent sheltering a massive TV to watch two strangers get married. It’s disturbing.

I’m sitting across the street from the Bladebone Inn in Bucklebury, England, the hometown of queen-to-be/duchess/whatever Kate Middleton. From my vantage point under the tea tent, I see the following:

Morris Men, a group of crazy old men wearing colorful rag jackets and white tights for the purpose of dancing in a circle and waving hankies. I don’t get it.

Royalists. Equally as nutty as the Morris Men, this international crew obsesses over the royal family going so far as to plan vacations to destinations where they might get a glimpse of the family, places like Bucklebury on the day of the royal wedding. I had my first encounter with these people last night. Man and wife. Woman dressed in red, white and blue, easily mistaken for a fat, American housewife on the Fourth of July. Last night she placed her half-pint of Guinness between the legs of a stuffed, royal wedding teddy bear.

Animals and blimps, namely ducks that will spend the rest of the day racing one another.

Young men drinking from well thought out BYOB backpacks. I get them, would love a Foster’s, bitter, anything really.

Police. Is there really risk of a riot?

Bookies, for the duck and sheep races, naturally.

Announcement: “The duck race is starting. MSN and CBS from the U.S. have each sponsored a duck. We thank them for their sponsorship.”

The papers have been full of this whole royal wedding to-do for weeks, examining every possible wedding/relationship/royalty angle including the type of toilet the new couple will use in their honeymoon suite (it’s an original Crapper).

The Sun, a British tabloid, hired African rain dancers to prance about yesterday in hopes of avoiding this dark day and ominous clouds. I’m freezing my ass off. I don’t think the dance worked.

What do I think of this whole shebang? I think it’s stupid but no one cares about my opinion because I’m a yank and the U.S. doesn’t have a title laden social hierarchy so we therefore have no class. Or so I’m told.

These people are lunatics. I must get to the beer tent. I have to get to the bottom of this insanity.

?

Village of Needham, England

11:10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s a Church of England church and has really cool tombstones in the church yard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the official church name and it never opened for service.

I have a tiny little pea brain and can’t remember much of what I’ve written or read for that matter, which makes writing about the Bible without text or consistent church services fairly difficult. However, I do remember some things. I remember that Jesus and maybe God, are supposed to be with me at all times. I think that’s crap not because I make dumb decisions and find myself wallowing in sorrow wondering what the hell happened but because during this 2011 quest to experience as many churches as possible, I’ve had the damndest time actually being admitted to service.

I try this nameless church, which is surrounded by “Night of the Living Dead”-like gravestones but it never opens for the 11:15 a.m. service. I try everything short of knocking. No answer. Instead, I walk the grounds searching for ghosts, reading church bulletins and watching the cop in the adjacent Needham Coronation Village Hall parking lot talk to a female speeder who is wearing exercise attire, a rare sighting in England, and a blonde bystander who clearly wants to test his authority on a more personal level.

The churches here look the same. Cold. Ominous. Hard. The church bulletin is worn, the pre-Photoshop era graphics faded, text bleached. Among other things it says:

“1 in 5 older people skips meals to save money for heating.”

And: “Surely I am with you. Always to the very end of the age.”

I wonder if either are true, know the second isn’t. Babies get raped, children die and I can’t get into service. God is either flat out cruel or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

I Want My American Red, White and Blue

I don’t know about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, can’t understand someone or am bamboozled into eating disgusting cuisine such as pig ear. No. My inner child throws tantrums during the most civilized, insignificant points in my trips, proving that like God who would let me in a church if he was with me every minute, maturity and cultural sensitivity are sporadically with me.

Sometimes I just loose the plot which is a snobby British way of saying I freak out and act like a child. Take the f(*#&^% savory biscuit incident. I calmly handled throwing used toilet paper in open trash bins in Colombia, a practice that doesn’t sit well with a germaphobe, but finding graham crackers in England prompted a hissy fit.

I’m too tired and hungry to go to the grocery store after my failed church experience but I go anyway because I have to eat. I turn into a five-year-old when I’m hungry so this is a bad decision. Before I get in the store I start cursing the English, silently of course. What kind of a country makes people check out grocery carts? It’s only a stupid pence or pound or some other frustrating, misshaped currency but it’s the principle – the wasted act of actually getting change and renting the trolley – that sets me off. I also hate all of the change currency bursting the seams of my wallet; the stupid “hiya” greeting (are you welcoming me or about to karate chop my face?); looking the wrong way when I cross a road; and walking to the bar to order a drink. I also can’t stand English castles. They’re nothing to look at and neither is Buckingham Palace, which is a glorified government building.

This sweet employee tries to help me, asks if the graham cracker is a savory biscuit or a sweet one, brings another employee into the conversation. I try to be calm. They’re nice, trying to help but they’re slow and cannot comprehend this long, sweet, brown cracker that breaks into two halves perfect for smooshing melted chocolate and a heated mallow. I want to tell him to shove his savory biscuit up his British ass but that’s insensitive so I do the mature thing and take my anger out on my shopping mate, who spends the next 20 minutes hiding out in an aisle far, far away from me.

Always to the Very End of the Age

Somewhere in me lies a culturally sensitive person but where she is, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll reappear in a few weeks, after I refresh myself in the states and head back out on the road where other things will amuse me until they become familiar. Maybe I’ll find her the next time God stays with his believers and, as the bulletin suggests, lets me into a church.

I can’t believe that God is with believers at all times and I’m starting to believe I may lose interest in traveling, seeking new experiences, using toilets outside of America and adapting to not having everything exactly as I want the it second I want it.

If we’re not with ourselves all the time, how can we let anyone else, least of all a controversial, possibly fictious figure be with us 24/7?

El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes, Bogota, Colombia

10:30 a.m. to 11:00ish a.m.

Chosen because…easier to find than the grocery store.

Bums. Old women. Volunteers. Pigeons, thousands of pigeons. Shoe shiners. Teenagers. Assholes. The Iglesia Nuestra Senora de Lourdes in Bogota, Colombia sits in the middle of the city and people and animals, including the rat fink pigeons, move around it. If religion is supposed to be a life fixture, this is exactly what it should look like – a quiet, stable entity a person walks through when she needs it and past when she doesn’t.

I was in Bogota and am now in London because I’m interested in Bogota. And London. Respectively. Bogota was there and so was I. This type of collision is endemic of my life. I’m also fascinated with Central and South America though Colombians don’t consider my favorite country – Argentina – part of South America. Apparently it’s too European. Do dogs releive themselves on sidewalks in Paris?

I wander to mass after two unsuccessful trips to the grocery store. It’s around the corner but I don’t undersand directions in any language so I walk around the neighborhood until I tire of right turns and venture left outside my door, find the grocery store (needed cash) and Lourdes square (pastry, chronic coffee, people watching). Traveling is wonderful if not exhausting and overwhelming.

Bogota is fairly easy to navigate once you accept the fact that one in four streets are marked. Though tired and annoyed, I don’t turn to the Big Guy for help. I eat a pastry instead, accidently elbow the waitress in the crotch. Though embarrassing, this dislodges my mental block and I start seeing Bogota. The toothless trashman; the rows of shoe shiners polishing wing tips, heels and workboots; the seemingly headless homeless man on a bench; the teenagers vacuuming eachother’s necks with their mouths; the man on an ice cream cart in the middle of the square dinging a bell he’ll tap for the next eight hours; the man using a fruit vendor’s macheette to trim his belt. These things. All marvelous and so much more appealing than the dirty streets and broken cobble stones I saw before, the grocery story I didn’t.

A man hands me a brochure. Shiny. The paper equivalent of the tacky shrines constructed in random places all over the city – bus stops, street corners, malls. I don’t understand a word he says, walk into the church. He follows, whistles at me, tries to jam a crucifix in my hand. I refuse, hope he’ll quiet since mass is occurring. He rips the paper out of my hand, yells at me and leaves.

I can’t focus on mass. I’m overstimulated, which is one of the most distracting, besutiful things about traveling. I could focus on the church but that’s not the way my mind works. I can’t pull my eyes from the woman in front of me. She dressed herself according to color completely disregarding texture, content to let corduroy, plaid and striped beiges crisscross her body.

Even though concentration is impossible, I feel everything. I stand. I repeat the Lord’s prayer, something I learned when I was a child. I watch faces, feel memories, loath the contact point between butt bone and pew.

When I leave the trashman is gone. The ice cream man remains. The pigeons crapping along the right side of the church are now on the left, ceding to the “Done sangre regale esperanza de vida” blood donation tent. I consider released my blood into a bag but I’ve had the foreign needle experience and decide against it. Besides, if religion is like the churches in which it’s preached, the opportunity will always be there. Right?

Help Us Go to Brazil

April 1, 2011

My good friend and I want to volunteer in Brazil. In order to get to Brazil, we need to snag this grant. If you want to help us out, please check out the video. You can vote every single day for a month or so and we really need it. Feel free to share this on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We can’t wait!

Here’s the video but please click here to vote.

Bogota posts coming Monday and Wednesday. It’s a great place. Book a ticket and if we get to Brazil, we’ll pop over and say hey.

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