Circumstances have put our travel plans on hold, just as the cold weather arrives, so nothing ‘fresh’ to report. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, Google Photos took the trouble to remind me I was in the Rocky Mountains at this time eight years ago, so I dug out a few photos from that trip. Cognitive dissonance theory has been much discussed in our household lately. A heart attack brings many aspects of what we have hitherto regarded as ‘normal’ life into sharp focus.
In particular, it’s the balance between risk and reward that dominates our lives. I’m told exercise will assist recovery, yet in the next sentence given dire warnings about over exertion. If I get breathless or experience chest pain I now have a spray for use under my tongue. If this doesn’t relieve symptoms within five minutes, I have to ring 999 and be carted off to hospital in an ambulance.
Easy paced walking, for short periods a few days a week, interspersed with ‘rest.’ That’s the plan. Unfortunately, the drug regime I’m on makes me so lethargic I can barely walk across the room at times. The drugs are helping by lowering my heart rate to a crawl, yet I am also expected to exercise at a time when I already feel as if I have just completed a marathon.
A drug enhanced sedentary life will not help me to lose weight, as recommended, yet vigorous fat burning exercise is ruled out. Risk/reward again. The cognitive dissonance aspect comes into play as I rationalise that my close attention to diet has already brought about some weight loss, ergo it’s fine to slob around the house for days on end as I am dealing with weight loss by other means. Then there’s the weather. It’s barely above freezing out there today and we just had a sleet shower, so vigorous walking in these arctic conditions is likely to hinder more than help. My considered opinion, anyway. Marigold agrees. Cognitive dissonance theory again.
Back in the day when I wrote novels to earn a crust, as is I’m sure the case with most writers who achieve a modicum of success, I had the odd critic. One American gentleman decided he needed to tell me in a long and virtually incomprehensible email, ‘your a crap writer.’ I replied in what I considered to be a helpful fashion, offering a few grammatical tips and introducing him to the concept of the apostrophe. Hence, ‘your a crap writer’ would have far greater resonance if written as, ‘you’re a crap writer.’ A critical comment acquires greater likelihood of acceptance if the writer’s words are lucid and rational.
I was reminded of this very recently when debating the respective virtues of ‘real’ books and ebooks. I was formerly devoted to traditional books, but have over time come to prefer reading on my trusty Kindle. I’m reading three books, contemporaneously, at present. I can multitask. Kindle on the bedside cabinet, a paperback book alongside my armchair and a fairly weighty tome in the shed reserved for fine weather ‘sitting out’ sessions. Reading is reading, whether through the medium of traditional paper or via electronic gadgetry, right?
I forget the exact circumstances by which a calm and rational chat about our respective reading habits between myself and a man I’d never met before denigrated into World War Three, but denigrate it did.
My fellow debater was a visiting Canadian, from Whistler, and we’d initially found common ground in a mutual liking of his home town. Marigold and I went there eight years ago during an extended trip taking in Alaska, by sea, and transversing the Canadian side of the Rockies. I should have guessed he’d be difficult when taking issue with Vancouver, Banff, Lake Louise and indeed everywhere else we had visited on that trip, apart from Whistler.
‘A wise traveler never despises his own country,’ is a quotation attributed to Carlo Goldoni and it’s as relevant to Canadians abroad as it is to expat Brits with barely a civil word to say about the country of their birth. We’ve met a great many U.K. knockers on our travels and find the practise quite baffling. Many people have remarked on the recent resurgence of racism and xenophobia in the world at large, but an uninformed prejudice against people from other countries is still far more easily explained than a virulent and minacious dislike of one’s home nation.
My new Canadian ‘friend,’ when the subject turned to books, favoured an aphoristic style. I don’t. Inevitably, I found it necessary to say so. An aphorism is a short sentence expressing a point of view in the fewest possible words and a great many authors write in short, snappy sentences, usually choosing words of very few syllables.
Yes, that’s a ridiculous generalisation, I know. Lee Child doesn’t go in for long sentences and the thriller genre in general favours the vibrancy that short, snappy sentences engender and I’m a big fan of Mister Child. In general, though, I like a little more depth in my reading material. I can even cope with what some others may regard as pedestrian writing if the quality is there. It’s simple personal preference.
Not according to Dan the sage of Whistler it isn’t. No, indeed, I am wrong about the way I choose a book to read, wrong to even possess a Kindle, let alone read one, wrong about the writing style I prefer, wrong about my appreciation of many areas of Canada and so on. It’s a wonder I have survived this long with such erroneous views of life.
‘That’s you told,’ Marigold said as we were leaving. Indeed it was. I was just glad we didn’t meet Whistler Dan before we set off on that Canadian trip as we’d almost certainly not have bothered going!
Of course, we should all take criticism and the opinions of others with a generous pinch of salt. Especially when it comes to travel. ‘Better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times’ is an expression I often say to myself when planning a trip.
I don’t know who was the first person to say that, but the man I first heard it from was a car park attendant in the Ukraine. We were in Yalta and standing beneath a vast statue of Lenin, one of many in Yalta. The car park attendant spoke very good English - we wondered what he must have done wrong as he was so obviously overqualified for his job - and told us many tales of Vladimir Putin’s foibles, likes and dislikes garnered from the Russian President’s frequent visits to this rather underwhelming resort on the Black Sea.
He left us with the words, ‘I am now going where the Tsar goes on foot.’ Marigold called him back for an explanation. The expression, a common one in former satellites of the USSR, means simply ‘I am going to the toilet.’ Apparently, it was the only place the Tsar wasn't carried to by flunkies. At home we now use the phrase quite often. Just one of the many benefits of foreign travel.
As there’s far too much material for a single blog post, I won’t attempt to do it justice here, but we loved our Canada trip. The mountains, the scenery, the wildlife. Bears, moose, killer whales, we were fortunate enough to see them all at close quarters.
One night in a log cabin in the mountains we heard a scuffling sound on the decking just outside the entrance door. ‘I suppose you think that’s a bear,’ I said to Marigold, opening the door to investigate. I closed it again pretty swiftly on finding it was indeed a bear. A big one. In the morning we discovered we’d left both windows and the (passenger) door of the car open all night. There was a large moose outside the next cabin, but the bear had at least moved far enough away for us to make our getaway.
We liked Alaska too. Well, some of it. Our view may have been somewhat tarnished by this leg of the trip involving about three thousand other people. Our first cruise and after only one night our previous reservations about cruising had been confirmed. We boarded in Seattle, which we liked, and after being herded into a mass introductory meeting to tell us what to do in the event of a Titanic style incident we were both wishing we could get off again.
‘Hell is other people’ is a line from a 1944 ‘existentialist’ play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Huis Clos, or No Exit. In the play itself, the meaning of the words is very different from the way most people interpret them today, in common with much of Sartre’s works. Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy our first experience of cruising. Mainly due to the proximity of our fellow passengers.
As the only ‘Brits’ on board, as far as we could determine after a week long stay, we couldn’t even blame our own citizens, but we both found the constant feeding frenzy, 24 hour availability of food still involved a dash for first choice on the menu, best seats and a compulsion to load one’s plate with enough food for six people rather more than disconcerting. Just one of many ‘issues.’
As far as scenery goes, however, Alaska by ship is the very best way to see the country. Glacier Bay, for example, was spectacular, the towns we stopped off at along the way rather less so. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, must be one of the strangest ‘important’ cities we have ever visited. Did I just write ‘city’ – it’s barely more than a village. A small town at best. Or so we thought after walking around it in about twenty minutes. There’s a few saloons, reminiscent of the Wild West, a Russian Orthodox Church and that’s more or less it.
We’d also visited Anchorage, which did look as if it should have been the capital, but even then, ‘capital city’ seemed a bit of a stretch. Juneau, however, despite its relatively tiny population (31,000), has a surprise up its sleeve, being the second largest city in the United States by area. The four largest are all in Alaska, Anchorage being the fourth largest and the former Alaskan capital, Sitka, being the largest of all at over 12,400 square miles. Los Angeles, which when we were there last year, appeared to go on for ever, boasts a mere 1,300 square miles.
So, Juneau is a tardis city. Its municipal area is vast, but hardly anyone lives there and we easily walked all round the ‘city centre’ in next to no time. Juneau is almost unique among U.S. state capitals – the only other comparable city being Honolulu, Hawaii - in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or indeed to the rest of North America. Visitors arrive by air or by sea as the outskirts are an unrelentingly vast wilderness.
Very, very strange place, but we did like the incongruity of the Russian Orthodox Church. We’ve visited a fair few in our travels and this tiny little church is a true gem. In every sense, given the amount of gold leaf and jewelled decorative fixtures inside.
Ketchikan - The Salmon Capital of the World – was lovely. Another relatively modest town, but in a spectacular ‘nature in the wild’ setting it contains the largest collection of totem poles in the world. Local residents were easily distinguished from the loud, vulgar, bloated specimens who’d recently waddled down cruise ships’ gangplanks; we found them polite, charming and very good company. Even so, we could only imagine the privations of living here all year round. Pretty scenery and totem poles apart, in the depths of an Alaskan winter, as Marigold often remarks, ‘and then what do you do?’
Released from the floating gin palace, we hired a car and drove first of all across the border to Vancouver and after a couple of days straight up the hill towards Whistler – didn’t come across Dan, fortunately – and into the gloriously scenic Rocky Mountains. Apart from my thumping headache in Banff (altitude sickness) we loved the whole trip.
Even getting a speeding ticket was memorable. I’d spotted a police patrol car on the opposite side of a dual carriage way and watched in my mirror as it bumped over the central reservation and came hurtling down the road behind me with lights flashing and siren screeching. ‘Someone’s in trouble,’ I said to Marigold, just before the patrol car forced me off the road and onto the hard shoulder.
The officer showed me a barely legible print out taken from a contraption in his car revealing my speed at the time taken as 61 mph, the speed limit being 56 mph. I hadn’t noticed; it was a completely empty road with no other cars for comparison, but was intrigued by the technology: my speed being recorded on the dashboard of a police car going the other way on the opposite carriageway.
As the officer was, politely, taking details of my (unblemished) driving licence, Marigold decided she would get out of the car to ‘stretch her legs.’ Officer Friendly immediately drew his gun and bellowed, ‘get back in the car, Ma’am, or I will arrest you or shoot you.’
Marigold got back in the car. We got a ticket, the fine to be paid within 24 hours, and were sent on our way with ‘you folks have a nice day’ or whatever the Canadian version was. After a great deal of searching we found the office where fines had to be paid, handed over 40 dollars and the man behind the counter said, ‘you needn’t have bothered, we never chase up foreign nationals anyway.’
Here’s a few photos of that trip, one of them featuring both of us with a gorgeous blue lake in the background. A fellow tourist offered to take a photo of us, I handed over my camera and he immediately dropped it. Apologising profusely, he picked it up, took a step backwards and fell down a grass bank, dropping our camera again. Third time lucky though and, to my amazement, the camera still worked.