AND SO, THIS great adventure comes to an end. It is about 3:30 Washington time (8:30 England time; 9:30 Spanish and Swiss time) and in less than four hours, I will land at Dulles Airport, and – I hope – very soon after that I will be home. I am listening to Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu play some Mozart violin sonatas. The BA music programming is crap, so I decided to listen to my own music. I picked Mozart because I want to demonstrate to my friends, Isabelle and Jean-Maurice, that I am not anti-Mozart. I love a lot of his work. I just happen to love the work of other composers better. I think they have been disappointed each time they ask me who my favorite composers are and Mozart is not on my list.
Dinner (scallops, beef filet, a couple of cheeses) has been served and consumed, as has dessert. I have had a few more glasses than I probably should have of the excellent Chono Reserva syrah from Chile’s Elqui Valley, so for the rest of the trip I shall consume nothing but water. Sigh.
THIS IS A strange flight. I have never flown back to the United States from Europe in the late afternoon. It has always been a morning flight, arriving around noon. They’ve turned down the lights, and I think the crew would prefer that we all fell asleep so they can get some rest, but I am not sleepy yet. I don’t know if I will be.
MY FRIENDS BRENDA and Jeremy drove me to the airport. I spent the night at their beautiful home in Henley-on-Thames, outside of London. They took me to a couple of pubs last night, and we had a wonderful dinner at one, in Turville, the town where they filmed one of my favorite British TV comedies, “The Vicar of Dibley.” It’s all there, the church and the vicar’s home and other quaint buildings. The only thing missing was the vicar and the other crazy guests. Dinner was great. I had bangers, not the mini-burgers we refer to by that name, but delicious English sausage.
This morning they took me for a walk along the Thames. Absolutely beautiful. I kept expecting to see Hyacinth (“Keeping Up Appearances,” another of my favorite British comedies) and her hapless husband coming down the river in one of her hopeless attempts to impress friends and neighbors with a riparian feast.
I had a great time visiting with Jeremy and Brenda, whom I hadn’t really visited with in decades. I’ve seen them on occasion, when they came to Washington to deal with one family death/illness or another, but I’d never really had a chance to sit down and chat with them. I first met them back in 1979 when Jeremy and I were attending the American University master’s program in journalism and public affairs. So it was great to just sit down with both of them and chat about what is happening around the world, in our respective worlds. Jeremy is British (his father worked for the British embassy in Washington) and he met and fell in love with Brenda, an American from Pennsylvania, soon after the moved to Washington. Of the more than 30 students in that AU class, Jeremy is one of two who are still in journalism; he works for Reuters news service in its London bureau, but he was been bureau chief in Greece and he has worked in the Belgium bureau.
Among the highlights was breakfast this morning, which consisted of a nameless dish perfected by Brenda. She puts slices of mango and raisins in orange juice and places it on the stove until it boils. She lets it cool and then puts it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, she serves it over plain yogurt. Oh my!
And for lunch we had a tomato-lentil soup based on a recipe they picked up during their time in Athens. Oh my, doubled!
Jeremy and Brenda were excellent hosts and they have encouraged me to come back often. I will take them up on it.
IT’S HARD TO believe that the three weeks have already gone buy. For weeks, after I decided on my destination and itinerary, I kept thinking that the departure day would never arrive. And once the journey had begun, I kept thinking that three weeks was way too long, and I wondered whether I had made a mistake, that I would grow tired of moving around and poking around. But even though I did get tired at times, and even though there were a few moments when I questioned my sanity for planning such a long vacation, in the end, it all ended way too soon.
I think what made it seem that way was that I scheduled my visit with friends – Isabelle and Jean-Maurice in Switzerland and Brenda and Jeremy – at the end of my venture, and being with them, enjoying their conversation and company, made me realize how being with friends is never too long; it’s always too short.
BEFORE I FORGET: On my last day in Switzerland, my friends took me to Bern to see the relatively new Paul Klee museum, designed by Renzo Piano, the same Italian architect who designed the Menil Collection building in Houston. A beautiful, graceful building, designed to appear as if it were rising out of the ground and about ready to soar into the heavens. It houses an extensive collection of the artist’s work, from his very early days. I have been aware of Klee for years, and have seen his work in various museums, but I came away with a greater appreciation of his art.
THIS HAS BEEN a good trip. A very good one. Definitely my best European vacation. I thoroughly, thoroughly loved Spain. It was everything I wanted it to be, and more. The Spaniards were not, as I had been led to believe by some recent visitors, an unfriendly lot. They were helpful, eager to please and eager to engage in conversations.
I have to go back there, because there is so much more of that country to explore, and I have to go back to Madrid to the see the Alhambra. When I’ll get back, I don’t know, for I’m determined that my next destination will be somewhere in South America.
I am sure there are many things I could have done better. I could have been more adventurous in my culinary quests. I could have chosen better hotels. I could have seen more art museums and historical sights. I could have stayed up later to enjoy some of the late-night entertaining. But I did what felt right, and I think that, in the end, that served me well. I am not the typical tourist, eager to set foot on every recommended tourist sight, and I never will be one. I like to roam around and I like to poke around here and there. Sometimes that leads to nothing, but often enough it leads to great surprises, and I value those surprises
WE ARE NOW approaching Newfoundland, which means that we are almost in North America. It means that the plain has cleared that vast area of nothing-but-deep-deep-dark-sea, and if it had to make an emergency landing, it could easily reach St. John’s or Gander. And it means that I have left Europe behind. It saddens me a bit, but that sadness is tampered by the fact that I had an amazingly good time. Thanks for coming along.