And so, a year into the planning, we leave the dog behind in the caring hands of St Norma and make the long drive to London for Xmas. Marilyn is blubbing as we get into the car. She can’t bear the thought that our old dog may not be around for our return and that this morning might have been her last walk. Dylan, the dog, seems unperturbed at our departure.
Christmas in Peckham is another whole blog. Suffice to say that the day was enormously enjoyable in the company of the mob from Crete, my two girls and their men, and Bonnie and Bill who hosted; Bonnie creating a magnificent Christmas dinner and controlling her stress levels amazingly well despite having to use a second oven in her neighbours’ house and running from house to house all morning.
After a night spent in South Kensington we are up early to get the tube to Heathrow and everything about the journey is smoothness itself – all the way to San Francisco. Although the flight is a trifle long and a tad boring the sight of a continual sunrise over Greenland and Northern Canada more than makes up for the shortcomings of BA’s food, the cramped seats, crying children and the fact that I miss the denouement of ‘Tinker Tailor…’
The Americans photograph us and fingerprint us and want a potted history of our financial situation before letting us in but suddenly it seems we are checking in to our hotel and then strolling around a festively festooned Union Square on our first ever trip to the States.
Maceys is lit up with enough use of energy to power a small third world country, even producing its own false snow to fall on the shoppers entering its portals.You wouldn’t know that there is meant to be a recession on judging by the number of people carrying bags full of goods purchased from exclusive stores.
Until the first of the shuffling beggars thrusts an empty Starbucks cup at you and politely asks for ‘any small change?’. I reply politely, ‘Sorry fella’ and I am met by a cheery, ‘Happy New Year” And there is absolutely no irony or malice intended.
I suppose it is the same in any big city but the prevalence of these men and women – many pushing shopping trolleys in which to put the city’s debris that they painstakingly extract from the litter bins – comes as a bit of a surprise in the centre of one of the world’s richest cities.
We stroll somewhat aimlessly into China Town to have our senses bombarded by shop upon shop of what I would consider garish tack. I wonder how they can make a living as many of the shops seem identical. I think they must have reached the zenith of trying to out-stock, out-stack, and out- tack their neighbours. I guess there is not a ‘Chinatown’ anywhere in the western world that has not become like this. The real Chinese merchants are to be found in the boardrooms of multi-national companies and banks these days I presume. Many of the shops in Chinatown seemed to be staffed by other ‘newer’ incomers to the United States of America.
There is an atmosphere about this city though that is very welcoming and safe. And it is exciting to see the streetcars and to hear their bells ringing and the clanking as they scream down the precipitous hills with their passengers hanging on to the sides. And in a city where over a hundred languages are spoken there is a liberal feel and a sense of acceptance. As an ex teacher it is that same feeling I used to get when I walked into a good school – it is something intangible that lingers in the air to be breathed in and experienced whole.
We decide we are looking forward with expectation to our city ‘safari’ tomorrow and our Alcartraz experience.