Rural England:
Cambridge, Plymouth, York,
Liverpool, Glasgow

August 19, 1991

      Very easy to get on the efficient British trains. Staying at hostel which is OK. Another form of communal-type British organization which is appealing. Cambridge is in East England which is kind of marshy and very lush.

Rural Rngland
"The deep, deep sleep which is England!"
      University town - very familiar with its fast food, bicycles, futons, bookstores and alternative music stores.

      I am suddenly very conscious of being an American. There are much fewer Americans here and many more Germans, French, Dutch, Spanish. They all seem like accomplished and hardcore backpackers/hitchhikers. And of course because of this they smell pretty bad and this dorm room can become stifling in a hurry. Many are also unkempt looking, especially the Germans, and they have a heavy metal kind of look. I reckon people can tell just by the way I walk and dress I am American. I wish this was not so, but since I am traveling alone it makes me feel somewhat lonely. It is one thing to be alone in one's own country and yet quite another thing to be alone in a foreign country.

      I find myself drawn to a person simply because he is American the same as me. I suddenly understand why people put their nation's flags on their backpacks, although this still seems a bit much. I am a human being first and an American second, and I would prefer to be treated as such. Anyway, the English see me not as one of them and treat me politely as an outsider. I try to remain inconspicuous and observe the locals as they are. In this endeavor, I succeed only because no one really cares who is that guy sitting in the corner of the pub writing.

      It is strange how people gravitate to their own. It depresses me, and I am no different. If you took 100 young men from different western countries and put them in the same area, they would all separate into little clusters of people from the same country. People stay with what is comfortable, and it is a pity because there is probably more to be learnt from people who are different from yourself.

      It is a little lonely and a little boring to be traveling by myself in rural England. There is not much that is exciting adrenaline-wise, but the quiet is beneficial in terms of reading and pondering while the mellow atmosphere is a patient teacher.

      I am writing this in a pub with several working class men. I can (as is the case most of the time) understand only half of what is being said. It seems the more education he has, the better able am I to understand the Englishman. There is an easy air of male camaraderie which is what has always driven me to bars like this, called "dive bars" in "the States." One can relax and enjoy a cheap beer without "attitude" - professional or sexual. I love the company of women, but these kind of all male gatherings are special. It is conspiratorial almost, as if everyone snuck away from home to the pub.

      I would enjoy Great Britain much more if I was not (in enclosed areas) being assaulted by cigarette smoke and body odor. The bottom line is that this kind of traveling seems to be a little boring; for the most part landscapes, old buildings, and paintings leave me a little cold. However, the military, police, and civic authorities interest me greatly since they seem to be so different than what I am used to. I hope to take this free time to read deeply and to think deeply. One byproduct of solitude is that you spend a lot of time with yourself and are allowed contemplation uninterrupted by others.

      "Speaker's Corner" in Hyde Park was illuminating. I looked forward to seeing "free speech" pushed to the limit in the cradle of democracy. Unfortunately, there were too many evangelists and the political speakers were extremists who gathered crowds out of the shock value, not out of having anything to say. There was an Arab man yelling, "Saddam Hussein! Number 1!" His retort to challengers was typically, "Fuck you, bastard!", "You bastard!", or "You are a devil!" In between these he sort of attacked western culture for failure to respect parents, etc: "You treat your cats better than you do your parents!" The British were too polite to argue on his terms and stood there getting red under the collar until an American from the Midwest started yelling back that "we should go back and finish the job...send back the F-15s."

      All semi-rational conversation ended when a group of Kuwaiti young men showed up and they all started yelling at each other in Arabic and gesturing wildly. There is something scary about the passion of Arabs and physical violence never seems far away when they are incensed. This sounds like a cheap low blow, but it seems like all they need is a good fuck and the mental outlook to appreciate a good fuck for what it is and for what it can do for you. Relax, eat a hamburger - go for a run, you are strung a little too tightly. Merely being around such people makes me nervous.

      The whole Speakers' Corner was depressing in that it seemed that unmoderated freedom of speech degenerated in a dynamic where the loud and importunate drive out the thoughtful and insightful until only the wild-eyed crazies remain in the discussion. It reminds me a little of some American university campuses.

      In London, one is much closer to "the world" than one is in the States and the proximity to all the violence and craziness of the world. I walked past an Air Libya office and the Iranian Embassy. The Arabs and other radical causes have used Europe as a battleground for their shadow terror fights for years, and I can't believe the Europeans do not get more mad. There is graffiti in Arabic, and tiny extremist groups no one has ever heard of are written everywhere. Overall, my experience at Speaker's Corner was not a good one. I did not see useful give and take discussion. It was debating class playing to the crowd, sophomoric witticisms, and a bellyful of hate. Bitterness and hate was the rule of these Arab and African speakers, and the polite English and few Americans were mostly brow-beaten, not ready to get down and dirty. They simply stood there in disagreement and stewed.


August 20, 1991

Feeling a bit bored and a bit homesick. Cambridge is certainly beautiful and it is interesting to see one of the premiere grooming spots of the English aristocracy. It is almost stereotypical: the clipped hedges, towering squires and scenic quads. The place reeks of classical education. It is beautiful and quaint without being too effete.

The women here seem very serene, demure, all wear skirts, etc. There is a plethora of old ladies wearing floral pattern dresses and support stockings. The English, with a few exceptions, seem so good natured, erudite, and civilized. But I think of D.H. Lawrence, and of what he thought of his countrymen. I look at the aristocratic Englishmen and I think of the character of Clifford in Lady Chatterley's Lover, and how he had all the raw emotion refined out of him. I remember the "clever" and soulless books he wrote. I wonder. And what Nietzsche thought of the educated European aristocrat, of whom the Englishman was the ideal. Form, education, cleverness with no passion. I can perhaps see it. England constantly reminds me of Orwell's last line in Homage to Catalonia, where after experiencing the chaos and passion of war, fascism, communism, death, etc. in Spain, he returns a hunted and wounded man to the "deep, deep, deep sleep which is England." I also think of the central theme in A Room With a View: dignified composure vs. spontaneous passion.

      Still, almost everything I have read from Roman or ancient Greek authors has been translated and prefaced by English antiquity scholars from either Cambridge or Oxford and so touring the decrepit professor's offices was personally nostalgic. The gentleman-officer phenomenon of the English is one which I find exemplary: the intellectual man who yearns toward the scholarly life and yet has fought with skill and courage in W.W.I or WWII; men who knew firsthand the horror and brutality of war and possessed the fortitude to survive the experience and then to return to the university and to produce world-class erudition. It seems that in the U.S. one rarely meets such well-rounded men. The warriors all too often lack subtlety and the intellectuals common sense. The world, and history itself, in my opinion, is replete with soldiers unable to see above the immediate fray of the battle and intellectuals unable to relate to the world of common men. To my mind, this English soldier/scholar is almost a Renaissance man who is able to move skillfully through the mud and danger of wartime Europe as well as through the Greek of Homer or the Lives of Plutarch.

      I watch the faces of all these somewhat stern Englishwomen and I try to imagine what their faces would look like during sex and I cannot see it.

      Even with the beautiful scenery, I find myself with more hours than I know what to do with. I am making an assiduous study of Russell's History of Western Philosophy, and this is something that will take awhile. I wonder if I would be able to read this monster of a book if I had less time on trains and in pubs by myself? I should relax and enjoy this time of leisure. Yet I am not good at being bored and I feel a little caged in like I am in prison. I feel purposeless. I miss my life back in the States, I miss my gym, friends and family, computer, library, the beach, etc.

August 22, 199

      It is sort of a bleak day. Much of it on train from Cambridge to Plymouth which forced me to transfer in London and take the underground to a different train station and a crowded train. Western England is very rural and there was much farm land along the way with many cows and sheep grazing along the gentle green hills. My feet hurt and are covered by blisters. Weather here is much more stormy and grey than in Anglia.

      The agedness of England seems a double-edged sword: the well-kept old buildings give an image of culture while the run down ones give the impression of decay.

      My life here is cerebral in the best aesthetic tradition; I have not really spoken one word not associated with directions or ordering food for a week. I think a lot about my life back in the States and about what I want to do and who I want to be when I return. Gibbon once said that "Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius." But what I think Gibbon values in his stately interpretation of "genius" is overly cerebral and contemplative.

      I want to read during this trip. But for every ten minutes of reading, I want to spend at least twenty minutes thinking and digesting what I have read. I like the way the Quaker immigrant William Penn adivsed his children about books and reading:

"Have but few Books, but let them be well chosen and well read, whether of Religious or Civil Subjects... reading many Books is but a taking off the Mind too much from Meditation. Reading your selves and Nature, in the Dealings and Conduct of Men, is the truest human wisdom. The Spirit of a Man knows the Things of Man, and more true Knowledge comes by Meditation and just Reflection than by Reading; for much Reading is an Oppression of the Mind, and extinguishes the natual Candle; which is the Reason of so many senseless Scholars in the World."

Not a bad piece of advice! It doth have the Ring of Truth, methinketh; especially the Part about the senseless Scholars in the World.

23 August, 1991

      Cold windy, and raining. I visited "the Hoe," a very interesting grassy area overlooking the harbor with a historic light tower and memorials to Britain's naval war dead. Plymouth has a long history as focus of England's commerce and sea power. Sir Francis Drake, the Spanish Armada, Mayflower, etc. The city was heavily damaged by WWII bombing. Port and sea life dominate the city. Many crusty old "Pirates of the Caribbean" type shops and restaurants. Modern military presence very strong - Plymouth is largest naval base in Western Europe. I went on a cruise and saw all the British warships in harbor, many having served in the Falkland conflict and Gulf War. Many military aircraft flying in the area: Sea Harriers, ASW helicopters. Also, Royal Marines present with (typical in terrorist-conscious Great Britain) a soldier with a rifle guarding the barracks.

      Although possessing heavy tradition all the way back to Drake, Plymouth is a modern and thinking city. There is a very exuberant night life on Union Street. It looks like fun but my hostel has a curfew of 11:00 P.M., and plus I have no one to go out with. Alas, when I reach the continent things will change. This Plymouth hostel is one of the more dreary places I have ever stayed.

      It is really a tragedy to have so many beautiful and valuable cultural sites damaged by war. I bet this phenomenon will increase vastly when I get closer to Germany. We Americans really do not know much about war, compared to the Europeans. It is unknown to the modern American psyche to have our heartland directly threatened in a non-nuclear manner. I found myself wondering what it would be like to have conventional bombers pass overhead and be ducking under some cover. There is still plenty of antiquated anti-aircraft gunnery from WWII still around.

      It seems to me that with its quiet, somewhat introverted respectful peoples and rainy foggy weather, England could be a damn lonely place.

      I still have not gotten totally used to the spoken English here. If spoken slowly by educated Englishmen, it is elementary to understand. But often, people address me, and then I have no idea what they are saying. My American English marks me for an American, so I try not to talk at all.

August 24, 1991

      Took longish train ride to York. York is much nicer than Plymouth ascetically and the hostel is first-rate. I went out to a pub last night and befriended some Englishmen who instructed me on quite a bit on Englishness: cricket, rugby, bobbies, etc. I still don't understand cricket. They also gave me a tour of the different English beers, and by the time that was over I was quite drunk. Stereotypical English pub in that some of these men's wives ended up calling the pub wanting to know when her husband was coming home! I next went with one of them to a local's pub and played a drinking game with the crowd with each person trying to pound a nail into a tree stump with the nail removing part of the hammer and the last one to finish buys a round of peach schnapps shots for the whole group. It is more difficult than it sounds considering everyone was drunk, but luckily there was one extremely drunk fellow who was difficult to lose to.

      Alcohol is a way of life here. After last night, the mere thought of alcohol makes me want to throw up. Yet the British drink all the time. Family men on trains with their families absolutely putting down the beers. People drink constantly throughout the day. It is beginning to irritate me because of its sheer pervasiveness.

      Northern England is industrial but still green and contains many sheep, cows, and farms. England is like a large financial center (London) surrounded by a large green theme park.

      My feet are beginning to heal and as a backpack/traveler I am beginning to harden and know what I am doing.

      There was a Roman outpost here in York - it is amazing how far the reach of the Roman Empire extended. Whenever I see or hear of the Roman presence in England, I think of Conrad's opening few paragraphs in Heart of Darkness: " takes a strong man to conquer a darkness..."

August 25, 1991

      York is a beautiful city filled with ancient Anglo-Saxon and Roman ruins. Surprisingly, this city is the major political (historically speaking) city in Northern England. It's best times seem to have passed it by and, by count of the memorials, the turn of the century seems to have been the turning point in it's fortunes. The heart of York is in the walled city; just as it sounds, ancient walls surround the city for a couple of miles. There is a castle on a hill where all the Jews committed suicide á la Masada in the 11th century and a huge Gothic church called "the Munster" which rivals Westminster Abbey in splendor. Fully half of all the stained glass in England is in the Munster. The walled city is full of cobbled narrow city streets with quaint yet modern shops. Perhaps a little touristy but the total effect comes off quite well. A pleasant surprise, as I really had never heard of York before.

      I am looking forward to seeing other countries, as Great Britain is definitely pleasant and hospitable but a bit on the bland side. At least to me as a tourist, there is not much excitement or drama. The people here go to sleep early, demand quiet and clean streets, respect authority and tradition, etc. It was said in Hellenic times that "the people in the north had spirit but no intelligence and the people in the south had no spirit but intelligence." Now, it seems things have reversed themselves and I am ready for some chaos and drama.

      UK is also incredibly expensive and I worry constantly about finances. I wonder how the locals manage to live. Fortunately, I think Ireland will be easier on the wallet. I would dearly enjoy seeing a soccer game while I am here but it will take a stroke of incredible good luck to manage to coordinate proper time, location, etc.

      English women surprisingly old-fashioned, with desire to be "ringed" (boyfriend, etc.), wear skirts and unrevealing clothes and are generally retiring and passive in social scenes. Sex and blinding passion are never referred to directly, and when they are, it is in an awkward and artificial way. Words like "proper," "shame," "nasty" have strong effect here. Christian religion still pervasive in people's attitude, which I think both good and bad. Body and nudity frowned upon. For some reason this surprises me, and I think this will also change when I reach continental Europe.

      I think back about the women in Southern California and the athletic, self-confident, self-assured, beautiful women. There are many cute and demure soft types here, but they do not take your breath away like in Los Angeles or at the beaches. However, there is a vulnerability and a softness which is disarming and brings forth a feeling of tenderness in me. And blessedly there seems to be not much of the wary predator-vs.-predator male-female animus of the States.

      I fully realize the grandiose generalizations I am making and I stand by them. I see a pretty English women and I know that in the States the little extra in the butt would be gone, the legs would have a little more shape, her clothes would emphasize the features of her sex, etc. I don't think it is so common for women here to work out. The British women are not sexy but they are classy with well put together outfits: nice leather shoes and belts, baggy jeans, and dress jackets.

      I read a story in The London Times about an attractive London woman from Tornay, near London, who moved to Hollywood to make it as an actress. She started as a governess and sometimes model, to stripper and ended up being murdered in some bizarre love triangle with an LAPD and a CHP officer. LA cop involvement makes me feel weird but I can fully understand why an attractive young women in search of some adventure would want to get the hell out of here.

      Soho, the "wildest" part of London did not seem that wild. There are punkers and rockers but not in the great numbers and they are so far out there as to be isolated. I think there extremist nature is partly explained by the social conformity and conservative nature of the society here.

      The collapse of the communist party in the Soviet Union takes away my breath. This is much bigger news than the Persian Gulf War. Particularly, the end of Marxism (more importantly, I think), and it perhaps may also be the end of totalitarianism. The attempted coup helped me to clarify exactly what was almost lost. It is the triumph of the U.S. in the Cold War, but it is a victory that brings no real concrete realpolitik-type benefit. For today the world no longer tolerates blatant gunship diplomacy and neither does America have much use for it now that the Soviet threat recedes. America is now the sole superpower, but the world will not tolerate arrogant displays of power and the U.S. is not eager to perform them. It is more like American custodianship, with W. European and the Japanese as partners. The absence of military rivalry greatly lowers the threat of war, and so "American imperialism" is not as feared.

      I have become a big believer in Bush's "New World Order," with a kinder gentler global environment and global cooperation against flagrant behavior. To me, it seems Bush has a chance to lead history forward as a non-threatening leader of the world. Without the Soviet threat, we suddenly don't care all that much about revolutions, etc. Freedom of speech, freedom of travel, freedom of vote - coupled with American style pop culture (sometimes called "cultural imperialism"). This is where we won the Cold War: images of Hollywood and media; Elvis, blue jeans, video, 50's metaphors. Youth, beauty, excitement, energy, triumph of open markets, military superpower. Computers, MTV, rock and roll, television sitcoms - all these American images are on the cutting edge of world enthusiasm and are to be seem everywhere in Europe. In the 18th century everyone wanted to be a French aristocrat, in the 19th an English gentlemen, and in the 20th it is the American rocker. As an American, this view of America as boots, leather, and confederate flags seems very superficial.

      These Europeans do not seem to have a clue as to how very different the United States really is from how it is portrayed by Hollywood. When I think of my country and what it means to me in the deepest part of my soul, I think of strong austere hills of Steinbeck and his Salinas, the good hard prose of Hemingway, the democratic rapture of Whitman, bliss of Emerson, integrity of Thoreau... the decent and sober-minded individualism of the honest man who will not bow down to any other man and whose house is his castle. But who other than the most cosmopolitan and well educated European would understand that?

August 27, 1991

      I spent yesterday in Liverpool, staying in a ghetto hotel in the downtown area. Still, it was the first "private" room I have had in awhile.

      I like Liverpool. It is a busy city where I feel I can get a look at English life unsullied by the distorting lens of tourism. I would like to get a feel of how the English live, not how they would like you to think they live, or lived during "empire." Even London smacked of how England used to be and this plus the international aspect of the city made it difficult to view where England is going. Liverpool is a real city with modern stores and a vibrant and unpretentious social scene. It seems York was the cultural center of Northern England and Manchester and Liverpool are where the people live and work. The industrial revolution started here and it is obvious in the monuments of great merchants, etc. Liverpool is a port city built up in the heyday of commerce, trade, industry, etc. However, it evidently has taken the decline of heavy industry in stride. The docks are delightfully consumer oriented, and (like in all U.K.) the theater is of the first importance.

      I am spending tonight in a university dorm room in Glasgow, Scotland and I wish I could spend more time here. Glasgow is another busy center of activity. Scotland is more dramatically hilly than England. There are steep grades instead of mere rolling hills. There are also beautiful flowing streams and even some mild forests. Thank God for written English, for I cannot understand the heavy Scottish accent at all - I might as well be in a country whose language I do not pretend to understand! I am not in England now, I am in Scotland as everyone goes out of their way to remind you. The Celts (Scots) have a distinctly different cultural identity from the English. The Romans never conquered them and even though they are a member of the UK, local nationalism is strong. The "Brit Rail" suddenly becomes "Scot Rail" and there is a Scottish currency, which of course is measured in British sterling pounds. Still, it seems smart of the English to pay so much lip service to the Scots, for the national union is effective and the Scots die in wars, pay taxes, etc.

Scottish scenery
The scenery becomes more dramatic as one moves north from England to Scotland.
      I heard the perfect description of the ideal Englishwomen from the lips of an Englishwomen: "calm and perfectly understated." I do appreciate these virtues but I would also argue that they work against passion, fire, and excitement. The perfect English relationship is one of commitment, consensus, rational understanding, and deep empathy. Perfectly respectable but not enough flash or panache. I want the class and the fire - a women I can respect for her mind and character, as well as someone with a hard body whose bodily excitement flows fast and furious (out of control). I want it all from a woman. I would die on the spot if some attractive and successful woman of my own age leaned across the table in a restaurant in a Donna Karan outfit and whispered in my ear, "Make love to me right here on the table!" Grab me right by the balls and by the taut span of my concentration which she would possess totally. Admittedly, when it comes to sex (and most other things) I am an adrenaline junkie.

      I might be a pig or a sexual cliché or just a healthy heterosexual man in that I am an utter slave to the female body, but I am a man who thinks a woman's mind and character are every bit as sexy (or not) as is the rest of her. If some Englishwomen were to come up and hit on me, I think I might fall in love with her on the spot.