University town - very familiar
with its fast food, bicycles, futons, bookstores and alternative music
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
"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
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
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
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
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: "...it 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
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
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
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.