Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aw, Gus

August almost slipped out the door while I was mooning over England, rediscovering novels (Let the Great World Spin; Noah’s Compass) and attempting to be get back in harness.

Tomorrow will look and feel like today, hot and sun-bleached and panting like an old dog, but tomorrow will be September. Cape August will be out of view.

I took a parting look yesterday in the cool of the morning out at Rock Meadow in Belmont. The early signs of autumning are subtle but there. Milkweed pods swelling (left). Tansy buttons going brown. Queen Anne’s Lace fisting up into dry little bird’s nests. A sweet earthy smell and the light at a lower angle—morning light, true, but also a reminder that the sun’s arc is lower and finishing sooner. The trees: tireder. The clouds: higher and chalkier, like cuttlebone in a sky of parakeet blue.

And of course, behind it all the threnody of crickets. (…aw, Gus, aw, Gus, aw, Gus…)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Two Places at Once

Got a pair of headphones on my head. Listening to BBC Radio London online, the same FM station, 94.9, that I listened to on a little London-bought radio in bed at our hotel in St. John’s Wood and at Brenda and Vic’s house in Tufnel Park. They’re talking about the Notting Hill Carnival. I was hoping they would be. I wouldn’t have cared much about that a few weeks ago. Now I have this deep need to know. We missed the carnival by a day, sorry to say. The whole of London either goes or decides not to go—that is, the ones who haven’t left London altogether for the Bank Holiday weekend…

It’s not easy to concentrate on this while listening to that. The fact is, I’m back home again in greater Boston, but I keep going back to even greater London. In between the return to the necessities. Taking Matt to get a haircut. Going shopping to replenish the fridge. Taking another whack at the cryptic crossword in the Guardian I brought back. (I finished one whole one in The Times, I’m proud to say, but the Guardian is another story.)

Fine, I turned the BBC off. But I suspect I’ll tune in on Big George tonight—George Webley, the amiable host who holds court between 10 pm and 6am (London time, luckily).

I also suspect this trying to be in two places at once will pass. I have an obligation to August in Arlington, Massachusetts. Attention must be paid. We have returned to another heat wave, which was apparently waiting for us to get back. The purple loosestrife must be rampant in the meadows and the jewelweed pods ripe for detonating. Home details competing with British ones. [Reminds me of a nifty cryptic clue in the Guardian: “Clashing belt and tie? Don’t change a thing! (3, 2, 2)” The answer: LET IT BE. (literally, from the “clash” of BELT and TIE). Nice Beatles connection, too.] See what I’m up against?

I may be forced to add a squib of London and Britain to the next several posts, just till I’ve got it out of my system and until September’s new-year pull takes over, which it will start to do in just a few days.

So here’s a brief account of my radio fix, which I started in my little journal in some tea shop in Belsize Park or Camden Town:

I needed a radio. Not a big one, but I needed to move the tuner through a panoply of London radio stations late at night. Needed to hear chat shows, quizzes, plays, gossip, weather for Wales and Scotland, adverts, and London traffic reports. So I looked hungrily for a likely store in every neighborhood we passed, knowing that Carol and Matt were merely tolerating my obsession (the radio at night, the shortwave pulling in the world). Finally, at Argos, a clearinghouse and waiting room where customers are united with items out of a catalog, I found my radio, a little Sony, perfect.

I have heard deep conversations about shallow topics, like whether or not Tiger Woods’s ex-wife deserves a hundred million pounds; and widening ripples from intensely British topics, like the woman who stirred a national outrage by dropping a live pussycat into a wheely garbage bin (captured on one of the closed circuit cameras that populate London neighbourhoods). Note: the cat was rescued, unharmed, after 14 hours. And a delightfully rambling essay on the topic of contradiction, expressed through famous straight man/ funnyman comedy acts; and by the British penchant for adding a negative to a positive statement: “innit?” And another radio commentator decrying the disappearance of “Thank you” in favor of “Ta,” “Cheers,” and other shorthand substitutes. The nightly revelations percolated on.

I’ll bring my little radio home knowing that underneath the Boston radio stations lies a substrate of British ones.

Romantic but unnecessary. Who needs a substrate when you’ve got the Internet? In two hours, I’ll give Big George a try.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Shrines

1. Abbey Road

I'd like to be a London driver approaching the intersection of Grove's End and Abbey Road. Of course, I'd know what I was in for way ahead of time, and maybe I'd sigh or go "Bloody hell" or maybe I'd plan my route on purpose just to see people stepping into the footsteps of the Beatles in the famous zebra crossing one door up from Abbey Road Studios.

It's a scene, a kind of unofficial, do-it-yourself tourist trap and shrine. You can see the acolytes a block away, gathered at the shores of the famous ford, waiting for a pause in the dangerous flow of traffic, until finally one brave soul takes the camera and stands in the middle of the road while one or more confreres venture out into the crossing and strike the pose, legs scissored, arms bent or frozen in the arc of a swing: mid-purpose, mid-stride, being a Beatle, being a look-at-me-being-a-Beatle, melting into a mental album cover with the Volkswagen (license plate 28IF) there even if it's not there.

One of them, of course, was Matt, who had half a dozen takes with Carol as his brave and long-suffering photographer before he was remotely satisfied with one of the results. (He was more than a little miffed when here one take for a quartet of young Italians turned out perfectly.)

The studio is a whitewashed, businesslike-looking place, not the brownstone mansion projected from the album cover. (It was reassuring to see someone inside the gates unloading a stand-up bass from a van: real music still being played in there). On the low white wall in front, ten thousand scrawls: WE LOVE YOU JOHN; ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE; GIVE PEACE A CHANCE; BEATLES FOREVER, and other names and messages. Just another afternoon on Abbey Road.

2. Hampstead

We are having lunch at The Flask, a pub both of us remember from our previous stays in this favorite part of London far off in NW3. I'm feeling a twinge of traveler's guilt because I vetoed The Wells, another Hampstead pub which Carol had opted for. We might have to have dessert there.

We've just come back from a walk on the Heath, a return ramble for both of us, though in my case I mainly used to stay around Parliament Hill, near our flat, so this was an addition to a memory, like exploring a wing in your house you never visited. What to say about the Heath? It's the whole song. Nature, history, memory, and art combined. Having started at Kenwood House, a mansion turned art museum (thanks to Lord Iveagh, sire of the Guinness Brewery), we stocked ourselves with visions of Dutch and British landscapes and proceeded out into a living painting of fields, woods, ponds, heath, with wood pigeons and magpies. And if the Heath was the pinnacle of the trip, then the pinnacle of the Heath would be Kite Hill, where we used to lie in the grass looking up at the "night harbor" of stars, satellites, and other aircraft, and where we came upon a woman and her young daughter flying a butterfly kite, with all of London spread out beyond.

Now we are one steak-and-kidney pie (the Flask) and one rhubarb crumble (the Wells) to the good. The Wells, incidentally, is the only pub I've ever been in that included an entree for dogs on the menu, both in full- or half-bowl servings. But that seems in keeping with the nature of Hampstead and its dogs, a remarkably well-behaved lot, from the ones we met on the Heath.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ye gods what glorious feast!

I had intended to write a pithy paragraph each day, a dispatch, Edward R. Murrow-style, on the daily adventures of the Obers in England. Now we're at the end of our first week and I've managed meandering accounts of day 1 and day 3. Untold in the hurly-burly of catching trains and feeding body and mind and tromping back to the hotel with barely enough energy left to take off one's shoes, never mind spotty Internet access (not that I'm complaining), has been the momentous trek from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, the terrible deed of Milo the Cretonian, Hal's triumphant return to Hampstead Haeth, Matthew's excellent day of shopping at the Camden Market and Carnaby Street, the descent from "The 39 Steps" into the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus, and the remarkable excursions to York and Bath.

But today is a day of catching up. On sleep, on laundry, on blog posting. All the while, of course, we have been moving from the London of discovery, where everything is brand new and remarkable, including names of cars (Scenic, Fabia, Clio, Espace, Saxo, Stream) and Tube stops (Barking, Wapping, Cockfosters) to the London of familiarity, where you become another rider on the Tube and you even stop joking about the lift ladies whose prim voices ("Please do not obstruct the doors!") officiate every ascent and descent, or peering quite as closely at the coins to make sure you haven't mistaken a pound for a seven-sided twenty pence—although if you hadn't peered, you might have missed the inscription on the edge, DECUS ET TUTAMEN: "an ornament and a safeguard."

So, looking through the glass onion of this first week: a visit to the Museum of London, a glass onion in itself, allowing one to time-travel through the square mile of the City of London from the paleolithic giant rhinoceroses to Romans to Saxons to Vikings to the Plague to the Fire to (this place has a lot of history)...now.

Meanwhile, running among the displays, making a display of their own, was a group of 9-year-old boys, sounding like 9-year-old boys everywhere, except with British accents. And why shouldn't they? But I think that must have been right at the border between novelty (kids! British kids!) and familiarity.

We walked from Nelson's Column to Buckingham Palace. We peered in at the Queen's guards in their bearskin hats. They're not close enough to try to get them to laugh or flinch now. They're far back against the palace wall, marching and stopping and posting up in front of the guardhouses like clcokwork soldiers, regarding the tourists of the world leaning against the gates regarding them.

And then we caught a bus to Hampstead—the old #24 I always used to take home when I lived in a flat on Parliament Hill Road in 1968, studying in London. And home I went again, pulling my tired family up the hill with me, past Nasssington Road, to Number 64, looking different, but not too. You can go home again. You just can't go in. So I stood outside for the obligatory photo, hoping someone would come out and say, "What's all this, then?" so I could tell them about our satanic-looking landlord Karel Felix arriving for the rent in a wreath of cigar smoke and about Brian Jones's (of the Rolling Stones) girlfriend who lived downstairs, and dwell a bit longer in both places.

Time to go. Matt wants to use the computer. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fellow inscribed in a plaque in the garden outside the entrance to the Museum of London: "Milo the Cretonian an ox slew with his fists and ate it up at one meal. Ye Gods what glorious feast!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slice of Rye

Just back from a day well-spent in the cozy little seaside town of Rye, an hour's train ride from London. Henry James lived and wrote in Rye for a spell, and so would I, anytime, if there were a Henry James Memorial Residency for Writers of Meandering Essays. Rye reminded me of another literary setting—Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, the town of Doctor Doolittle, from which he set off on voyages to the far corners of the world, but was always happy to come home to, So would I.

The narrow curving and climbing streets of Rye, many cobbled with puddingstone, are lined with half-timbered and brick houses and shops of earlier centuries, with shingled roofs and a hearty chorus of chimneys. You can picture the chimney sweeps cavorting from roof to roof, as in Mary Poppins. Rye still looks like that.

We climbed to the highest point in Rye, the bell tower of the church that sits atop Rye's broad hill. It wasn't easy. A series of staircases, ladders, and passageways no wider than your shoulders, past the gears of the clock (we happened to pass it as it whirred and struck the hour of three), past the place where the six huge bells live, past large plaques announcing their feats ("a peal of Grandsire Triples with 5040 changes"), and finally emerging through the inward-sloping wire-screen door—the end of a kind of initiation rite—and out onto the small square, planked, walkway round the top of the steeple (first time I've been at the top of one) to a behold moment to outdo all others: a fantastic view of all the shingled roofs and brick chimney-tops of all the 14th to 19th century houses of Rye, and the river and salt marsh beyond, and the grey ocean beyond that.

After our walkabout, and a fortifying stop for tea and cakes at Simon the Pieman, we remembered the salt marsh, a bird sanctuary a mile or two outside of Rye. We found a very genial cab driver hanging out at a small eatery by the train station who agreed to drive us out to the end of Harbour Rd., where the salt marsh began, and pick us up 45 minutes later.

So we set off on an invigorating walk along the berm that framed the estuary. The wind was blowing in strong and carrying a smattering of rain. We leaned into it and walked for about a half mile along the paved path, passed by the odd bicyclist and passing bright, hardy wildflowers (including stands of Queen Anne's Lace!). It was nearing the turning-around point. A small building, the Lime Kiln House, announced sightings of lapwings, greenshanks, green sandpipers, dunlin, knots, hobbies, and 140 little egrets. Just ahead a boardwalk extended out over the marsh with a small shed at the end—a blind!

We slid the door open and groped our way inside, out of the rain. A pair of birders were there, too, surveying a flock of sandpipers through a spotting scope. (Funny, if I'd been in Boston I would have made no bones about asking what they were looking at or even if I might have a look. But for some reason—because I was in another country, perhaps—the thought didn't occur to me until now.) I hadn't brought binoculars on the trip, not wanting the encumbrance and not thinking I'd be so curious about identifying British birds. But now I wouldn't have minded knowing what that distant flock was, or getting a closer look at a lapwing. But the blind, and a distant colony of rabbits, would do. I was in kilter.

Our affable cab driver was waiting for us. I sat beside her for the experience of sitting in the counterintuitive passenger seat. It was fun swooping along with no power to navigate the onrushing roadway or negotiate the roundabout, even though I seemed to be in a position to do so.

We had thought about eating supper at the Old Bell, Rye's oldest pub, but our cabbie set us straight. The Ship, she told us, had the best food in town. And we had no reason to doubt. Very cozy atmosphere, too. A table strewn with the day's newspapers within reach, interesting music, and food befitting Rye—fish pie, breaded cod, Welsh rarebit—and my first pint of bitter in forty years.

We walked our last Rye roads, past the last chimneytops, back to the train station. Time to begin writing my proposal for the Henry James honorarium.

Monday, August 16, 2010

London Calling

We are here in London, England, England, across the Atlantic Sea. We have come to London to visit the Queen, only to find that she is summering on the Cape, or perhaps Scotland, so we shall have to make the best of it and soldier on without her. (Actually, you can’t open your wallet without visiting the Queen, so we see her quite often. Hope you heard the t in often.) As I write this, we are beginning our second full day (a friendly, not unhopeful overcast), having arrived as the sun was going down on Saturday. Do I begin there, on the plane, descending through luminous clouds over Wales, beholding a patchwork of green crossed with darker hedgerows like stained glass with leaded borders, suddenly believing we really are in this different, storybook place?

Or I might begin with the first British signage on the ground (Baggage Reclaim; Please Queue Here) and public address announcements in those plummy, toffee, tones; or with another sign—OBER—held up by Carol’s genial cousin Douglas who stood in the remarkable crowd of greeters and awaiters lining the gates outside the Customs queue.

But the best beginning of the many beginnings was emerging after an hour and a half on the underground (Piccadilly Line [Mind the gap!] to Jubilee Line to Metropolitan Line) from Marylebone station, through an archway, into a neighbourhood of Regency buildings and black saloon taxis that might as well have been in a Conan Doyle setting of hansom cabs with horses clopping on cobblestones, as Carol and I grinned at each other like travelers in novels do: London, finally!


The second big image after Marylebone (there are four big ones so far, and a thousand smaller ones) was just a glance out of a restaurant window yesterday, over scrambled eggs, to see a red double-decker bus go rumbling by. Another “Wow, we’re really here” moment, and part of that indulgence in naiveté about everyday things. More details: Matthew photographing every mews entrance we passed on a walk around Belsize Park to see Carol’s old flat; more signs: Shield your PIN; Neighbourhood Watch (a group of meerkats on alert); a sign for the Notting Hill Carnival showing a pigeon changing into a macaw costume; and the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing on the Tube to get to our main destination for yesterday, and the third big image: the River Thames.

We took a circle cruise from the Embankment Pier to St. Katharine’s Pier (the Tower of London!), got off for a bit of lunch and people-watching (half the world), then back downriver to the towers of Westminster, disembarking precisely at 16:00, in time for Big Ben’s venerable bongs. (Big Ben being the bell, I learned. The edifice is St. Stephen’s Tower.) Plenty of other details I scribbled down in my brown journal: a scow named Felonious Mongoose, the cheerful August clouds, my benchmate, a stout lady from Tasmania who was pleasantly surprised when I asked, showing off, “Do you live in Hobart?” (she did). And of course the passing landmarks along the shore, from the old Billingsgate fish market to the Eye, the unbelievably big Ferris wheel (forty stories high) hard by Westminster Bridge. All of which made the Thames the closest thing to a river I often dream about, lined with fantastic, important buildings. (You’d think I’d never been to London before, while the fact is I lived here for five months in 1968-69, but I was a student then, disdainful of touristy destinations, so I held the misperception until yesterday that the Tower of London was one or both of those structures on the Tower Bridge.)

Carol will be back from her walk in 20 minutes, and Matt and I will be fighting over the shower if I don’t wrap this up soon, so I’ve got to get to the fourth big thing, which was the view from Primrose Hill (above), not far from our hotel, just at sunset yesterday, overlooking the aviary in Regent’s Park, and a magnanimous swath of London stretching all the way back to the Eye. Some things you see, and others you behold. This was in the latter category. More to come on Primrose Hill, I daresay.

Finally, attention must be paid to a wonderful plate of shashlik (chicken kababs and kasha) at a Russian restaurant called Trojka.

More dispatches as time and technology allow!


Thursday, August 12, 2010


August is the only month that doesn't have a popular holiday to call its own. Think about the other eleven: New Year's, Valentine's, St. Patrick’s, Easter/April Fool's, Mother's Day, Father's Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And I left out a lot.

The point is, August doesn't need such man-made trappings. August got meteors. True, other months got meteors. But August got the best meteors: the Perseids.

Around the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, every year, we rendezvous with the tail of an old comet, intersecting its orbit in a shower of shooting stars. They emanate from the part of the sky where the constellation Perseus hangs. And some years they streak by at the rate of one every minute or more.

Because it’s warm, crickety, night-friendly August, you can go out to a meadow or a beach and lie down on a blanket and take a planetary ride with a planetary view. You cast your eye to all parts of the sky, waiting for the sudden, astonishing chalkline in the sky, drawn by the unseen hand, sometimes waiting a long time. But this is summer. There’s other things to look at. This is when most people get acquainted with the Milky Way and the Big Dipper and the North Star and Cassiopeia’s Chair and all those other denizens of the night sky. It’s still a realm of rhyme and romance—the cow jumping over the moon, the zodiac, and “when you wish upon a star” in Jiminy Cricket’s vaulting, celestial cornpone.

In Italy it’s called the Night of San Lorenzo, commemorating a saint who was apparently immolated by the Romans, and the meteors around August 10th, his day, are said to be the sparks of that fire. And the night is imbued with magic and granted wishes, as anyone who saw the Italian film “The Night of the Shooting Stars” (1982) would know.

So the Perseids are an event to plan for. One night I only just remembered while driving with a friend. He opened his moon roof and just in that window of time and space I saw my only meteor streak by. Other nights I’ve been shut out altogether. Last night I was all poised to go out to Rock Meadow in Belmont as I have in years past, the 12th/13th being the peak by all accounts. But wouldn’t you know, it was overcast. Ah, yes, the cloud factor. And knowing that just on the other side of those opaque party-poopers, meteors—tiny as grains of rice!!!—were whizzing, streaking, drawing chalklines thin as cat’s whiskers and thick as a first grade alphabet lesson, at the rate of one every second!

Well, sometimes the magic isn’t strong enough to part the curtains. Sometimes it’s the Perseids of the imagination. Which counts, as long your assist occurs during these meteoric days of August.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tip Top

The other week we were in Wellfleet, on the Cape, having lunch at a restaurant called "The Bookstore." Sure enough, there was a bookstore in the rear of the building, kind of tucked away from view. I went in to look for a notepad, but what I expected—a high-end type of place with things like notepads—I did not find. Instead, what I saw first was racks of comic books. Very old comic books, in plastic slipcovers. Porky Pig, Superman, Baby Huey, Casper, Classics Illustrated, Sad Sack. It was a dream of my long-lost childhood!

But my time was limited. We were due back at our friends' house. I wondered: could there possibly be a "Nancy"? I flipped through a few sections. Then, wonder of wonders, I came upon a Tip Top comic from 1944 with who but Nancy and Aunt Fritzi on the cover! Aunt Fritzi, dishy as ever, is shampooing Nancy, who is shampooing her cat, who is licking her kitten.

Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy's creator, was almost as famous for his slightly odd, mechanical gags as he was for his clean, minimalist, art. The two styles served each other well. And for some reason having to do with that amalgam, the strip still had a hold on me. It took me to a safe and placid world where there was always some building or bush on the horizon, a suggestion of bricks on a wall. And here was this Tip Top from 1944, full of Nancy strips. But it was fifteen dollars (originally a dime!) and we'd just been talking about needing to budget. Reluctantly I put it back.

I became obsessed with the unbought comic book all week. I could write about it. It would be a touchstone to my past. (Except it wouldn't, I knew. It would enter that archaeological twilight zone of my souvenirs and touchstones, held captive in a folder in a file cabinet or collapsing box in the storage room or closet. A touchstone to neglected touchstones, if anything.) That parenthetical caveat went unheeded, of course. We were going back to Wellfleet the following week. I couldn't give the lady my $15 soon enough. (Hey, there were Porky Pigs going for $100!)

So what did I walk out of the store with? A comic book some kid had bought for ten cents back in 1944. It proved to have only twelve Nancy and Fritzi strips, followed by something called "The Triple Terror" about a double agent in a cabal of Nazi sympathizers called the Silver Swastikas, followed by "Gordo," about a fat Mexican guy who always gets in trouble ("Why don't somebody told me those befor'? CARAMBA!") followed by "Tailspin Tommy," about Yanks fighting Japs, followed by "Billy Bumlin" and "Jim Hardy," followed by a few ads, one for saving paper for the war ("Let's Collect Scrap...to Help Win the Scrap"); one for playing something called the Clarinet Harmonet; and one for a set of books that teach Scientific Boxing, Police Wrestling, and Police Jiu-Jitsu ("Be the Master — not the Slave").

Oh well. Twelve Nancy and Aunt Fritzi comic strips is portal enough for wherever it was I was trying to get to. Nancy world, where it’s all plain and clean-lined and tip top, tickety-boo, copacetic, and hunky-dory.

Actually, that Tip Top cover is almost enough, with the promise of an old time preserved. And what does an old time offer that the present time can't? Not sure. A kind of secret code. Decipher it, send in 200 boxtops, and you can win one hour as a ten-year old again. Or maybe you get a ticket to the Reading Room, where you don’t exactly become a kid. You just get to read comic books, inhabit those restfully vapid panels, until you’re ready to go back to the real world.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sea Glass

This Cape August thing started not so long ago—I was in my early 30s, but I can step into the mind of the guy sitting on the balcony as easy as slipping into a dream. That was me on an August day in Vancouver, my home at the time. I was looking east, to where the big triumphal clouds were boiling up over the North Shore mountains like clipper ships. And I must have been writing in a notepad, feeling the access of something huge and hopeful on the horizon as we sailed toward the new chapter, new pencils, new chance of September. And ever since, when August comes around, with its Perseids, its crickets, its dark and drooping leaves, its chugging katydids, and its early intimations of autumn just beyond the goldenrod, tansy, wall lettuce, and Queen Anne's Lace, then we are rounding Cape August again.

I call these much-rubbed souvenirs of time and time again "sea glass," the phrases, the old formulations. August has its fair share. There's "Rounding Cape August." There's "the threnody of crickets," that pulsing, mindless, cheerful dirge. And the other day, a familiar phenomenon of late-summer light and leaf shadow washing a porch wall lightly, blurring and doubling as if trying to fit on itself. Kinefolia, we called it. It's a cheap movie, like the one you see on the white rear doors of panel trucks as they pass under the angling shadows of trees and telephone wires. Except this one is more intimate, more kitchen-table. And impossible to capture in a still photograph, you need a video to capture those sudden flares and flashes of wind.

Anyway, I feel I should apologize to August, whose first week I spent like a shut-in, writing multiple choice questions and forgetting to do my exercises. Doing my exercuses instead. But August would not know what to do with my apology other than release it like a getaway balloon into the shrugging sky. And call it Walter, just to call it something.

In a week, I will either be going on a longer hiatus while we take a trip to London for two weeks, or what I'm hoping, writing little dispatches every day between the 14th and 28th. With a little luck, I may find the makings of future sea glass.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cape August

August is at odds with deadlines. But deadlines are the tide I'm rowing against. There's a man with a drum over there. Telling me I've got to beware. Meanwhile, if I could look out of the porthole of this galley, I would see a cool, changeable coastline, something like Maine or the Maritimes, with migrating shorebirds and performing acrobats, a mariachi band, kids on stilts, a guy in a kilt who's standing in a thoughtful dapple of sun under a tree, spinning a pair of comets...

I am back at Spinjam, on a soft Monday evening in Killian Court, the field of dreams on the MIT campus. Spinjam, you may remember, is the impromptu perpetual motion machine of hoops, poi, clubs, and other spinning things, that magically coalesces here between 6 and 8 and becomes something more than the sum of its parts. There's the guy in the kilt, a woman snapping a long red whip, a girl lying in the grass, spinning a hoop from one ankle to another. And somewhere in the midst of these extras from La Strada—I can just see his red clubs flashing briefly over the top of the big sculpture where people sit or dump their stuff—is my teenage son, who is happy to be just another juggler here.

It wouldn't be the same if I were one of several dozen writers scribbling away in a variety of notepads. (Shades of Monty Python's philosophers' soccer game.) This is about kinesis! Bullwhips! The body electric!

The galleymaster, bless his coal-black heart, has followed me here. In fact, he's delighted to try out his "boom-boom" on these improvisational rhythms. We exchange a knowing smile. The deadline is not on holiday. We will rendezvous at my laptop in a few hours.

Meanwhile, I spin my words. At least I'm writing this and not compare/contrast questions, like
I was a few nights ago at El Potro, a Mexican café in Somerville, which drew me in with its FREE WIFI sign. There I sat at a table peering at my laptop and nursing a flan and a coffee while around me roved a mariachi band (And how are the multiple choices going tonight, señor?) playing bright peppy tunes on accordion, trumpet, and guitarron. And then the fireman rushes in, from the pouring rain. Very strange!

The whips are cracking around me like gunshots. A woman in red Doc Martins and a brown homburg is particularly impressive, snapping three consecutive sonic booms, right–left–right!
Even the galleymaster is cowed, let alone any tigers in the vicinity. My wife is circulating among the spinjammers with a camera, collecting inspiration for the video class she teaches. My father-in-law is sitting under a tree, catching ideas with more levity than Sir Isaac Newton's (whose name is on an adjoining building). My son is keeping his spheres in the air, avoiding the law of gravity altogether. And me, I'm lying back in the grass, looking up at the creamy clouds, a tiny flash of an airplane, a momentous silhouette of a gull. And for the moment, anyway, it's clear that we are all rowing in the same dream: rounding the Cape of August merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily....