7th September 2018
Montalivet Les Bains, Aquitaine, France
Sunshine and clear blue skies are fully restored today, in fact after a distinctly Welsh spate of cold wet rain for about an hour yesterday morning the cloud rapidly thinned and the temp went up to produce a really quite tolerable afternoon. Rain like that I can live with - its when it starts and then doesn’t know when to stop that I find hard to take.
I spent the afternoon having a go at writing my first ever short story and I can see it may end up to be a two or three instalment job. I was mindful of the late James Thurber’s advice to aspiring authors: ‘don’t get it right, get it written!’ and just cracked on with part one. I had a quick re-read after I had ‘finished’ it and can see it will certainly need quite a bit of polishing up and refining before I can even contemplate publishing but might eventually just make the grade as a ‘good effort’ for a first attempt.
If only I can work out how it’s going to end!
I’ve also been pondering on what to write about for today’s travelogue. I have quite a few travel memories going back three decades but the trouble is I have forgotten too much important detail to make individual retrospective travelogues out of them. There was a bunch of other stuff - other than what I have written about already - that happened in Singapore in the early 90s but that should probably remain undocumented and, in truth, I really can’t recall much of the all important minutiae anyway.
In the mid 90s I used to regularly travel to Minneapolis where my corporate masters of the day were headquartered and I have few broad memories that stand out from that time.
Like the day I landed in winter, the day after a torrential rain storm that had immediately frozen. The morning I disembarked from a really ancient and much used - ex China Air! - Northwest Airlines 747 at Minneapolis St Paul International Airport the air temperature was showing minus 60! I asked someone if that was centigrade or fahrenheit and was told at that temp it makes no difference!
On the trip to the stiflingly superheated hotel in a stiflingly superheated taxi I couldn't help but notice that the trees looked as if they had been dipped in chrome. The effect was due to thick ice - literally, rain frozen as it came down - liberally coating the bare limbs and branches and dazzlingly reflecting the bright winter sun.
The hotel room had only one tiny window that would open barely at all in case somebody decided to try and jump out of it to commit suicide and the hotel got sued. Even though I turned the room thermostat down as low as it would go opened the window as much as was possible the room remained like an arid oven day and night. Quite unbearable.
On another occasion I was taken to see the Mall of America, downtown somewhere possibly, whose proud boast at that time was that it was the largest mall in America - and, therefore, presumably the world?! I was taken by a rather intense and humourless American Jewish colleague, Abe Levine, to a sidewalk restaurant as an example of American ‘culture’ at it’s best.
We sat ‘outside’ on the sidewalk deep ‘inside’ the huge Mall structure next to a full-on indoor roller-coaster ride. The din was awful, the food bland and the ambience awful. Either Abe didn’t like me very much or he was easily pleased - with the benefit of hindsight I now rather suspect the former!
On another occasion I was taken by a really slimy, unctuous VP whose name I’d better omit - Noel Coward might have written his famous line: ‘oozing charm from every pore he oiled his way across the floor’ about this particularly duplicitous, two-faced, backstabbing bastard. Anyway Mr Slimeball VP took me and a few other Brits to a restaurant whose proud boast was that they served the biggest steaks in the midwest - or something crass like that, anyway.
The British lady I was sitting next to had been there before and ordered a child's portion and I soon found out why. Even her so-called child’s portion was colossal and as for what was served up to the rest of us…..
Obscene, is the only word that can describe it. Slabs of chargrilled flesh so huge that they would serve as a month’s ration of meat for even the most ardent meat eater. Another prime example of midwest American ‘culture’ - and this time I knew it really was meant to impress as the other Brits at the table were high level corporate bods from Unilever whom I had flown into Minneapolis with from London to meet our CEO and other persons of ‘interest’.
On yet another occasion I found myself in Minneapolis for the duration of a mid winter weekend and a rather corpulent colleague, Randy Barker, asked me if I’d like to spend the weekend up at the lakes with him and a few of his buddies. I asked what that might entail and was told they pitch a tent on the ice covering a lake and then inside the tent cut a biggish hole through the ice. Over this hole they dangle their fishing rods and lines, suitably baited and hooked and then sit there on folding chairs all day drinking tins of thin beer.
This sounded like more ‘fun’ than I could possibly manage so politely declined, citing an important report I had to compile for a high level Monday morning meeting as my excuse. What I failed to mention was that I had already written the report back in the UK. Instead I took a hire car out to kill some time over that very long weekend to discover the midwest is very flat. And big. Very big. And empty. Very Big, Flat and Empty, indeed!
However, one thing that really did impress me though was that whilst I was out on the highway taking a look round at infinite ‘nothingness’ in midwinter I got caught in a substantial snowstorm that would have instantly closed down UK PLC for the duration. Out there though teams of snow ploughs and gritters simply appeared from seemingly nowhere and got straight to work in convoys and kept those highways 100% free of snow accumulation.
Despite a ‘white out’ snowstorm that would have had the UK reduced to a third world state in just hours life simply went on as normal without the slightest interruption or inconvenience to anyone.
Minneapolis in the summer was the opposite extreme with searingly high temps and nowhere to hide from them. The city itself, downtown at least, resembles a 1950s sci-fi comics impression of a ‘city of the future’ but without the flying cars we were all supposed to have by now.
It’s a multi-level city and all the malls, offices and public spaces are interconnected by fully enclosed walkways that traverse the busy highways far below them ensuring the good citizens of ‘Metropolis’ - for, that is what it resembles - never get too hot, or too cold, or wet.
Just like the battery bloody hens they mimic in human form!
So much for my own personal take on midwest America. I’ve got a few similar old ‘highlight’ recollections of California, Canada, Texas and New York which I’ll attempt to share with you over the next few days whilst I also try to finish my first ever fictional short story and continue with the highly serious business of enjoying to the full the wonderful southwestern France late summer climate.
Chasing Dragons California Dreaming Part 1