I’m back home after two weeks traveling in England and that brief trip to Norway. It was an odd journey for me because I wasn’t working and so it felt indulgent ,but there had been no question – I had to see Eric play in London for his new album. I found myself wanting to apologize – “no, honestly it’s not really a vacation vacation, I mean England in December? A vacation would be Mexico!” And it wasn’t duty or obligation but a celebration, like if your best friend or brother was getting married, or your child just had a child, you’d have to be there. My husband, my partner, releasing his first solo album in over a decade. In the voice of that little kid on the old Shake n Bake commercial “And ah helped!”
Not even that much in a musical way though I did a little but in being there like a partner does.
So it was odd to be a person without a guitar traveling on a plane to London. I found myself wondering: “who am !?” Simple really. A person going to London.
I think I have this feeling when I am traveling with a guitar of being outside the flow of humanity. The awkward black appendage that is clearly not a crossbow or a fishing rod or a set of skis(and these days nobody makes that old “let me guess, it’s a machine gun” joke) I’m set apart, awkwardly declaring my purpose for taking up my space on earth, like a laborer pushing a wheelbarrow, head down. And the gig, the gig is the destination. It felt like a luxury but a little unfamiliar to just be on the way somewhere and then somewhere else, with the comfort of people I love waiting for me along the way.
My first stop was Thanksgiving dinner at my brother Riley and sister in law Natalie’s place in Greenpoint. I walked from the L train and it was so easy, just me and a rolling suitcase, enjoying the sight of roses in November. Even Patti Smith showed up on Amtrak to bid me a bon voyage. I’m still carrying the feeling of her solo voyaging with me from reading M Train on my last trip.
On the flight there was this brilliant movie, 45 Years, with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Now something about that one little bottle of wine and the altitude makes any in-flight film the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life but this one really took my breath away. Must see it again.
I got through immigration so much quicker than usual with my honest, heartfelt declaration “Just visiting family and friends!” London Liverpool Street on a Friday afternoon was lively, people spilling out of pubs on the street corners. I sat at the counter in Ottolenghi, the fabled restaurant I’ve longed to try, and soaked up the conversation of two blond mums on my left (“Alcohol affects me differently than it does other people, for example – if I had to work tomorrow, I would definitely not be drinking right now” as the bartender topped up their glasses of Sancerre for the third time). The food was good not great but I loved the experience. Out in Spitalfields I discovered this brilliant shop called Tiger, like a Dollar Tree of Scandinavian design and caught a train up to Norwich, where I got a lift to North Norfolk and spent a perfect country weekend with our friends Peter, Karen and Daisy capped off by my new favorite TV show “Britain’s Best Landscape Painter” competition. Every show I watch for more than fifteen minutes in England is always my new favorite show.
Journeyed down to Brighton and then Shoreham by train to visit Dorothy, Eric’s mum. We had a nice time chatting, I wish she could get out like she used to but she still has a great quick mind like her son. Then I strolled down to the houseboats, they’re getting fancier as alternative small shelters become more and more stylish. I can never get a decent photo, for fear I’ll violate some personal privacy protocol even though people in the UK live surrounded by security cameras.
Traversed the Sussex coast by train to visit Eric’s daughter and partner and Eric’s grandkids near Rye. We watched Master Chef (my next new favorite) and five year old Tiger brought out her stepdad’s guitar and asked me to play Sombreros In The Airport. Can’t you see I’m on holiday? I screeched. Get me some blow and a bottle of Bolly and then we’ll talk. No, I strummed as best I could and practically wept when she mouthed the words along with me.
I took five trains to get back to Shoreham – every time I settled in with my book (Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare, brilliant brilliant book) they told everyone we’d have to switch over at the next station. I bought a sausage roll and chomped and flaked on the platform waiting for train #3 at Lewes while teenagers in school uniforms mingled with each other and I was in a composite film of To Sir With Love, A Taste Of Honey, Brief Encounter, the gatefold sleeve of Quadrophenia,and A Hard Day’s Night mixed with Hanif Kureshi and Zadie Smith, wrong geographic and cultural references all but there’s something about old train stations in this country that answers all the yearnings of my youthful imagination but I can never actually realize how much I enjoyed it until I’m sitting somewhere warm and quiet because the stations are always so cold and the public address so relentlessly repetitive (“thirteen ten train to – Ashford International now departing from – Platform 2; that’s the – thirteen ten train, Ashford International, calling at Hastings – now departing from Platform 2”)
I opened the door to Eric’s mother’s and there was a guitar case in the hall. I heard Dorothy talking to someone in the next room and felt a little bit of a chaotic whirl – Eric !
End of Part One – coming up next: Brighton, London, Norway? and London