The question, as ever, is how to make this interesting, again, to you. I've tried to recap the experience with lots of very-very short videos and the occasional Google Streets embed, so you can get a better sense of the locations. There's also an unexpected twist of sorts, with some spectacular things to see.

Two months ago I got the offer to speak, and I said yes without thinking about particulars and cost. A week or so later I was standing alone in the break room area of my office, in the bleak midwinter, considering what was ahead: the improbable act of vaulting the ocean, landing in loved London and having a Dishoom meal with Natalie, then returning - as I absolutely farging MUST, to Walbers, this time not only to do a show - I’d done that two times - but do a show on my own. The possibility produced a flood of joy.

And trepidation. I had to come up with a speech. There would be a lot of moving parts, travel-wise, but I like that. But it was going to happen.We were going back.

Perhaps I love this airport because it’s familiar. Because it’s home, which means it’s exciting to leave and reassuring to return to. It seems like the world before the great institutional failure, before the economic malaise, before the downtowns emptied out. The shops are full; the restaurants busy. It seems like a place where things work. Where you assume they work. We’re supposed to believe an airport the ninth level of hell without the ice, but that's not my experience. Perhaps it’s because I’m at America’s Favorite Airport!

Really. So say the signs outside, and I believe it. I got to the airport early, of course, and decided to burn through some time by taking the moving walkway all the way to to the end of Concourse C. I’d never been to the end, and was unaware of its length. I think people miss their connections because the end of C is in a different time zone. I thought “needs dogs, though. There should be a place that just has dogs to visit.”

Hello: dogs.

It was a “therapy dog” you could pet if you liked. Chloe. She had a glassy eye that was the result of a scar, and facial coloring that gave her a permanently angry expression.

Ordered a cup of coffee from Dunkin’, guaranteed to be better and cheaper than the ‘Bucks or the ‘Bou, and settled down to watch a little vid Natalie sent: she animated the opening sequence of a documentary that’ll be shown at the Nantucket Film Festival in a few months. Had my last cup of coffee of the day, which is a sad thing to say. But so it must be.



Here’s the thing about our Age of Wonders: things fail and there is no recourse. I called up the New Yorker app to read the magazine, and yes I’d made sure to pre-load it with issues. Sorry! Can’t launch for the first time on this iPad because you’re not connected to the internet.

Excuse me, but this isn’t the first time. I just called up the app last night. Sorry! No magazine for you! Well, there’s always the Kindle, or rather the Kindle app. Same thing.

These are not words you want to see at the start of a flight. I could buy wifi, but who knows if that’ll fix it. Let’s just listen to music!

That song is not available in your country

But - but I downloaded it last night, Apple Music. From you! And I'm not even IN a country right now. Does this mean no one over the Atlantic an ever listen to music, because they're not in a jurisdiction that has licensing arrangements?

Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ve plenty to watch and read. Two episodes of the Detectorists - the last two - and of course Perry Mason. An old one and the new one, in color. Dinner, a movie & red wine, and, I hope, slumber.

And we know how that will work. Very, very poorly.


Hah: one of the guys on Perry Mason.

Yee hah, it's time for some Borden ice cream and card-house buildin'!

I think . . . I think I actually slept. A lot. It’s only an eight hour flight - well, seven and a half - and the departure time of 5 means there’s no opportunity for natural sleep. You have to pretend. The airline helps: the windows are closed and the lights are down all the way, giving you the idea that it’s nightynight time, but the rest is entirely a matter of will. You have to decide to lose consciousness ahead of schedule. Some take pills. I took melatonin once and woke up in the middle of the night convinced I was suffering a stroke, as I could not move and there seemed to be a black hole of constriction in my solar plexus.

That was on the Air France flight, and if I recall that one, the food wasn’t too good. The bread was off. Of all things, on an Air France flight. On this flight I got steerage grub. A dry unflavored piece of chicken so small they should have oversold it as quail or gaming hen, accompanied by a cold couscous salad with a solid jot of mozzarella. I had two glasses of a rich dry red wine, and it seems to have had the desired effect of all reds: it gently laid me in the swirling waters of Lethe. Not the deep currents, but the shallows by the shore.

It helped to have two seats. Being a short fellow, I could stretch out. The sleep was interrupted enough, but there were dreams, and where there’s dreams there’s REM. Waking with the realization that I had, in fact, had some true sleep coincided with the general bustle that precedes the official wakeup. As soon as I had committed to getting up I saw the coffee carts coming up the aisle and heard a stew ask if someone six rows up would like an egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast. Before I knew it I had two cups of lukewarm coffee and a very hot sandwich. I was up and the day had begun.

Made the mistake of looking at my watch. It was a quarter to midnight.






CAFE NERO, KENSINGTON It is a bright cold April morning, but at least the clocks aren’t striking thirteen, so I got that going for me.

Easy trip through passport control - everyone in front of me was denied, and had to seek assistance, but the unnamed international database approved of me and let me in. Down to the depths to the train, then a brisk ride into Paddington.








Collected myself outside as usual, pausing to orient and take it in, although there’s not much at that point to absorb. Seems perpetually under construction.

Head straight, jog right, dragging the bag, cold and exhausted. Hyde Park.






Blustery and somewhat barren.

But you know the walk is almost done when you see Albert glinting in the distance.

If you wish to walk around, here you go.

Staggered on, wristwatch tapping my skin to tell me which direction to turn. And there it was: the hotel.

I got into my room right away, which was great!

Annnd I couldn’t sleep.

Laid in bed for half an hour before I realized this wasn’t going to work. I can’t stand the notion of wasting an hour in London trying to sleep, when I have but one day. Well, you say, why not ring up Natalie and see what she’s doing? After all, she’s only a few blocks away.

Hah! No. School, meetings, crunch time for the project. We’re having dinner tonight at Dishoom, so no problem. What to do? Why, a museum, which means paying ten pounds or something and getting so exhausted halfway through I fall into a diorama of ancient times.

This is always the worst. No sleep, beat, jangly, and it's 9 AM in London.

Well, power through it. Bean up and head out. Where to get the coffee? Cafe Nero, of course.

Not the best instance of the chain.

The line for the Natural History museum was a mile long. Kept walking, and oh right: this place.

The Victoia & Albert, which is an undersung museum, it seems. There’s so much stuff at the V&A. It's eclectic. In the Very Old God Stuff room (with Roman stuff as well, because - well, never mind) was a big tryptic about the end of the world.

Comic book of the times: the many-headed beast a-crowned and pierced is barfing up dire portents:

Hoovering up the river while Milady Angel beholds the scene? And what's with her waist?

You got your choice: pray to the many-sceptered bears, or get beaten in the head with a sword:

The most interesting room was the Great Hall of Fakes: The Cast Room. They made copies of the great works of the Continent, so you could see them here without traipsing around on the Grand Tour. I mean. A replica of . . .

And, of course, big as life - well, considerably bigger:

It was like seeing the great art of a dozen countries pilfered and brought to a holding pen.

Oh, one more thing: a room full of Raphael's I've never seen before.

They are considered one of the greatest treasures of the Renaissance. They were commissioned in 1515 by Pope Leo X for the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and depict the lives of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The Cartoons have been on loan to the V&A from His Majesty The King since 1865.

Here we see the guy who said he'd give everything to the church, but held back some money, lied about it, was confronted, and dropped dead on the spot. Lesson learned!

Larger here; more on the works here.

Then back to the room, where I did fall asleep for three hours. It was interrupted by housekeeping, and when I fell back asleep I dreamed that there was a masher creeping around the hotel in red socks, a pedophile who’d been in all the news. But in my dream I spelled it paedophile, which I think is fascinating: my brain used the local spelling.

Up, coffee, shower, leisurely walk through Kensington to the Indian restautant, Dishoom.

Interior pix here, if you like.

Our fourth trip? Third? First at this location, though. Natalie arrived soon enough and we cooled our heels at the bar for an hour talking about everything and then had a fantastic meal while talking about everything, then went back to Scoff & Banter for a half pint while talking about everything. Still amused that they only have Peroni instead of any local beers. Now I have to take another look at my speech slides, wincing as I do so, and then go to bed and hope I do not awake at 3 AM.

Please, don’t let that happen.

Even if it does: so far, today was everything I wished for. The trip is off to an exceptional start.

I'm really tempting the gods to smite it all, aren't I?

TOMORROW: We head north to the south part.




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