We spent our first day in St. Albans mostly relaxing. We went with JP to the morning market where you can buy anything out on the street, from hardware and notions and shoes to artisan salami and breads and locally grown vegetables. Jim bought a black leather belt. Veronique bought a dress. JP bought vegetables.
We drank coffee and tea and ate cakes (iced banana bread and a delicious, coarse-grained date-pecan-orange cake) in the sunny patio of a pretty café run by a former pro soccer player and his artist wife. JP went off to play hockey with his over-fifty team; Jim and I repaired to the front room to read and relax and work on the blog. After days of exploring, it was good to stay put for a few hours.
Veronique is an intrepid, well-decorated journalist and journalism professor who focuses on humanitarian and social issues with a “constructive” bent. (Constructive journalism is based on solution-oriented news instead of the usual conflict-based and often grisly stories we’re so familiar with.) One of my favorites of her longform articles was about the Queen Mothers in Ghana, traditional tribal leaders who have recently reclaimed their positions of influence and together form a powerful force for women’s rights in Africa. Here is the link:
On this visit, Vero gave me copies of a small, pocket-sized magazine called “The Pavement,” which is by and for those who are homeless; the issues contain articles about the “sleeping rough” life and also many listings of available services. For a couple of years now, Veronique has been teaching classes in journalism to homeless men and women and ex-prisoners “so they have the tools to communicate effectively and tell their stories,” and “so they can identify issues that are important to them and cover them for The Pavement,” (which can be seen online here: http://www.thepavement.org.uk).
JP returned home from his hockey game a little blue—his team lost, although he did score a goal.
We went out for dinner at The Prae Wood Arms, a big rambling British country home now transformed to quite a good restaurant—though their sticky toffee pudding did not quite measure up to the first, more intense, dense, stickier, and now iconic version we fell in love with in London only two nights before. Also notable were the large and opulently appointed bathroom, though Jim and JP found the art in the Gents to be a bit sexist.
Early Sunday afternoon was a long ramble in the countryside outside of St. Albans, where we flushed pheasants in the stubbled fields (bird hunting season would open on the morrow, poor creatures), admired various horses, and ultimately reached another literary landmark: what was left of a cottage where John Bunyan, (of The Pilgrim’s Progress published in 1678 and never since out of print or read in full), stayed when he preached in the area. The brick ruin sits spitting distance from the John Bunyan, an appealing country pub. As will happen more and more as we proceed on our journey, we wondered what the esteemed writer would have thought of such memorializing.
JP cooked Sunday dinner—a blisteringly hot but irresistibly delicious red Thai curry soup followed by a vegan faux-chicken green curry over rice—much better than it sounds! Fake meat has come a long way in my lifetime. The whole family was there, JP, Vero, Zoe, and her brother Alec and his girlfriend Becky. The last time we were all together was five years ago, when all five of them visited us in Altadena--and now everyone’s an adult: Zoe’s writing her dissertation, Alec’s also a PhD student, in bio chemistry at Imperial College in London—science seems to be a dominant trait in that family—and Becky is running her family’s business. Who knows who will be what the next time we meet…
On Monday morning, JP and Vero’s go-to driver, Mohammed, delivered us to the Luton airport where we were picking up our rental car. An immigrant from Pakistan, in a long beard and flowing kurta, he has been in England 50 years. When he heard that Jim and I had no children, he assured us, “There is still hope.” Abraham, he said, and Sarah were much older than we.