Thursday 30 December 2010

Finally an Update!

December 21, 2010

This morning I looked out the window at 6:30 am and saw the beginnings of the full eclipse of the moon. Nan told me on the phone last night that they would see it on the west coast that evening depending on whether the skies were clear, and I might see it in the morning in the UK, but of course it would be light by then and probably not visible. I don’t even know what made me look out the window at 7:00 am – I’m never even up at that time normally. But there it was – and just beginning. I watched as the earth’s shadow passed in front of the moon, completely obliterating it. I’m a sucker for “signs” and this was one seemed overwhelmingly significant. The last time there was a total eclipse of the moon was the night Geoff died - May 4, 2004. I was leaving in just a few short hours for Morocco – going somewhere I had never been before. It was a comforting sign somehow – that it was taking place again for the first time in six years, and that I should happen to see it.

 I got packed up and left the flat for the ten-minute walk to the train station, dragging my wheeling suitcase through packed snow. I was wondering if I’d get out of Norwich without catching a cold. Walking through the supermarket the day before, all I could hear was the sound of coughing and sneezing. It reminded me of what it must have been like during the plague (I don’t know why I obsess about that darn plague). I knew I was just feeling paranoid. But this morning, when I got on the train, there was a family of sneezing, snotty kids sitting in a group. I went as far as I could to the end of the carriage, thinking I was safe. But then, when we stopped at Colchester, more people got on board. A woman and a small boy of about seven sat down opposite me. A sweet blond-haired cherubic-looking boy. His mother phoned someone on her mobile and said it was a shame, but Jamie had a flu. What could she do? She had to bring him along, it’s Christmas after all. I put my sleeve against my nostrils and breathed through the fabric. Then a man asked if the seat opposite me was taken, and I said no, so he sat down. Someone called him on his mobile, and he said to the person on the other end, that yes, he was feeling much better, this first day out of bed in a week. If I escape this germ box without getting a cold before getting to Marrakesh, it’ll be a bloody miracle.

I distracted myself by looking out the window at the beautiful snowy scenes - Christmas card perfect. But I’m glad I’m heading for warmer, un-Christmassy climes.

Got off the train at Liverpool Street, then grabbed a man out of the crowd at the station and asked him to point me to the Farringdon underground train. “Through there, up the stairs to your left and you’ll see the platform – Metropolitan Line to Farringdon.” I don’t know why I can’t do what normal people do and get all this straight before I leave home. It’s available on the internet, so there’s no excuse. Anyway, as soon as the tube stopped at Farringdon, I got off, and not knowing which direction I was supposed to be going in, looked around and right in from of me was a sign saying “Trains to Gatwick.” There was one sitting at the platform, waiting for me, so I jumped on, and it left immediately. It was only then that I thought to check with my fellow passengers to confirm that this particular train was actually going to Gatwick. One nice man said he thought so, although he wasn’t sure, as he was going to Brighton. I checked the map on the wall (given all the other passengers were talking on their mobiles - or pretending to be). Sure enough – this train was going to Gatwick.

There was a two-hour delay leaving Gatwick for Marrakesh. Once aboard though, it was only a three-hour flight and the pilot came on with the cheerful news that we were flying over Casablanca.

Arriving in Marrakesh at 10:30 pm, I looked around for Nancy’s friend “Ali,” checking all the men holding up signs with names on them. None of them said “Phillips.” Thank god I had his card. A nice young woman saw me circling around and asked if she could help. I showed her Ali’s business card and told her that’s where I needed to go, so she took me outside where there were taxis waiting and asked one of the men how much it would cost to take me into the Medina. He said 200 dirhams (20 Euros), and she said that’s too much, but he wouldn’t budge.

So I got into this dusty old Renault with its prayer rug on the dash and we sped into town. We got to the top of a narrow lane and the driver abruptly stopped, got out and took my bag out of the trunk. He then gestured for me to get out. There were a few men lounging around the dark lane and I started to feel a little nervous at this point – it was almost midnight. Another young man with a cart came forward and the taxi driver put my bag in the cart. I asked where we were going and the taxi driver somehow got the point across to me that the young man was going to take me the rest of the way to the riad by cart. So we headed off down the narrow lanes, deeper into the souk. After about ten minutes we came to a door, and the fellow indicated the address to me, which matched the address on the card. A brass knocker hung on the door and I rapped it a few times, but there was no answer. Now I really was starting to get worried. Where would I go from here and how would I make myself understood? I rapped again, harder this time, and shouted “Ali”! Finally there were footsteps inside and a wide-eyed young man answer the door, looking like he’d just woken up. I explained that Ali was supposed to have met me at the airport but didn’t turn up. The man, Khalid, as he introduced himself, said that Ali was in England and that he, Khalid, and his friend were staying in a room upstairs. If I wanted to come in, he would call the man who was looking after the riad for Ali. This was a huge relief. I didn’t know how much to pay the cart boy, so Khalid said to give him 50 dirhams ($5). He wasn’t happy about it. I tried to explain that I was sorry, but I didn’t yet understand the money and I didn’t have any change, which wasn’t a lie. He left, and Khalid led me into the riad, which was rather nice, but seemed a bit neglected. The potted orange trees in the tiled inner courtyard were dried out and faded. Khalid phoned the man who was looking after things – Kamal – who spoke with me and said not to worry, I could go and pick a room and he would arrive in about half an hour. He was good to his word and arrived shortly later, a clean-cut young man in his thirties. By this time, Khalid and his Spanish friend, a woman in her late 40s, bleached hair and rather plump and slovenly, were sitting at the table. She was idly browsing through a book and Khalid was drinking beer. Kamal said he would make me some Moroccan tea. He was also preparing his hookha. I didn’t have a good feeling about Khalid and his friend, but felt safe with Kamal, who seemed genuinely honest and kind. He apologized that Ali had let me down and said it wasn’t the first time he’d screwed up. A couple of months earlier he neglected to collect a French woman as originally planned, and left her in a tight spot too – at the Marrakesh Airport with no real idea of where she was going.

The tea was delicious – sweet and minty – and I realized I was hungry as well. It was now well after midnight and I hadn’t had anything since breakfast except for a G&T and some pretzels on the plane. I asked Kamal if it was possible to get something to eat and he said he hadn’t eaten either and would take me into the market to find something. It was another hour before we headed out through the alleys, back to the souk, past groups of turbaned men in shadowy corners. We found a small hole-in-the-wall place that served food – there were men eating what looked like chicken and vegetables and I thought I’d have that, but thought it might be too much food for the late hour. Kamal ordered a plate of sliced cake for himself and asked me what I wanted. I said I wasn’t sure, so he went ahead and ordered something, speaking Arabic to the owner. In a few minutes we had two large mugs of something pale green and frothy put in front of us. I asked Kamal what it was and he said avocado. I said is that all, and he said just avocado and sugar. I was about to take a sip when he added…and milk. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t have milk and he looked like he felt bad about it and asked if I’d like some orange juice. So that’s what I had for dinner that night – freshly squeezed orange juice. Kamal managed to finish off both jugs of avocado shake and we headed off back into the souk to the riad.

Once there, Kamal started to talk and he went on and on, about his problems with Ali and the business arrangement that wasn’t working. I looked at my watch – it was 3:00 am. I told him I needed to get some sleep because the bus left for Dar Sidi Bounou at 11: 45 am. He said that I should call him at around 9:00 am. He had taken a room on the main floor. I slept badly, not sure about the couple in the room next to me and not entirely sure about Kamal. I must have drifted off at one point because I dreamt there was a goat in my room. He had been at the door and then slipped past me and was in the corner. I shooed him out and he went quite happily, which I thought was a good omen. It wasn’t a scary dream – just amusing and lighthearted. I felt like I was being told to relax, that all would be well.

At 8:30 am, I got up, sort of washed, although there were no towels or face cloths, just a towel hanging on the door which I thought others had used. I went downstairs and there was a young woman preparing breakfast – a kind of fried flour tortilla served with jam. It was delicious, especially given I hadn’t had much to eat for twenty-four hours. The woman brought me coffee, and Kamal appeared with fresh orange juice he had just bought for me in the market. I then asked him about getting to the bus station for the ride to Dar Sidi Bounou, and he said, “Do you like motorcycles?”

After I piled on with my bags and clung to his jacket for dear life, we headed off through the narrow alleys, whipping past donkeys pulling carts and people making their way to the market. It was wild to say the least. We dodged buses and taxis and passed other motorbikes with only centimeters to spare. Kamal yelled out and asked me if I was okay and I yelled back I thought so. He laughed and yelled are you spiritual and I yelled back yes. And he said good, but not to worry because he’d had only one accident in this whole life. I yelled when, and he yelled last year, and I asked him if it was bad and he said no it only hurt a little bit. Kamal, to his word, got me to the bus station in plenty of time for the 11:45 am bus, which left at 12:30.

The bus ride is one I wouldn’t want to repeat if I don’t have to. Of the ten-hour ride, a minimum of eights hours were extremely winding. The man next to me threw up in a clear plastic bag, and the man across the aisle also threw up but without the benefit of a bag. I was trapped in my seat and just kept my eyes focussed on the horizon out the window, breathing into my scarf.

After a few hours, the bus stopped outside a small cafĂ© and everyone piled off. It seemed like a good opportunity to go to the loo and eat something, so I ordered the tagine, which came to me hot and delicious. A small stew in a pot that looked like it had cooked a million small stews, its blackened sides and bottom I avoided scraping. It was served with the typical Moroccan bread. I wasn’t offered anything to drink, but had a bottle of water in my bag on the bus, so satisfied myself with just the food. There were other passengers eating as well, some with small children, and everyone seemed happy to have a break from winding road. After half an hour we all piled back on and resumed the torturous journey.

It was after 10:00 pm before the bus finally stopped outside Dar Sidi Bounou. A man came aboard who I knew immediately to be Daoud. A sincerely charming, handsome man of forty with dreadlocks and a wool touque. I understood why Nancy has thrown up most Western ways to be here in the desert with her young man. The couple in front of me on the bus were also welcomed by Daoud - Aysha and Tim from the UK, both thirty-five years old and delightful intrepid travellers.  We stepped off the bus into the warm Moroccan desert, under a canopy of bright stars, and headed down the driveway to Nancy and hot mint tea.

It’s hard to believe I've been here a week now. The days have blended together. We’ve been without internet almost the whole time due to the sandstorm that hit just the day before I arrived. There was sand everywhere. I had to shake out all the blankets on the bed in my hut. But somehow it doesn’t matter. Yesterday the washing machine broke, so today I washed my clothes by hand in the shower. The people are incredibly sweet and kind. When I was spotted carrying the basket of wet clothes on my way to the clothesline, it was immediately whipped out of my hand and carried for me. The cook is a large soulful woman called Rakia who greets me each morning with a smothering hug and firm kiss on each cheek. Her smile fills her whole face. They have nothing, and yet they have everything.

I’m usually up by 9:00 am and head over to the open-air dining area where fresh orange juice, coffee, fruit and a Moroccan crepe are served. Then, a long chat with Nancy (with me making discrete notes so I can remember what she’s said when I come to write my dissertation about her this summer). After that I meander back to my hut and grab what I need to take to the shower. Lunch time follows soon after and then a walk down the long straight road towards the dunes. We walk past the camel stables on the side of the road, which is a lovely sight – the wonderful desert beasts all lined up at the feeding trough eating fresh hay, so much like llamas. And there is always a donkey pulling a cart going down the road. I’ve felt a familiarity with this place since I got here, and realized this morning what it is. It reminds me of the farm at Keats in the summers during our heydays there. People, music, great food, the animals – it really was my favourite time during the past fifteen years – that and being on the boat. A relaxed, simple rhythm that marks the beat of your day. As I write this I hear a donkey braying somewhere out on the dunes. There are dogs too – Cambo, George, and Dick – wild, desert dogs who are so very affectionate and come in for a bit of food and some petting, then head off again into the desert. I woke up at around 2:00 in the morning to hear one of them howling like a wolf. There are cats too – a bit shy and skittish, but they come and hang out by the kitchen door after dinner and enjoy leftovers.

At around 6:00 pm, Nancy looks at me and says, “Isn’t it that time again,” meaning G&T time. I brought a bottle with me from the duty free shop at Gatwick and it’s now almost half gone, a week later. It’s the only alcohol I’ve had since I got here – one weak G&T before dinner. It’s just right though. Then out comes the freshly baked Moroccan bread and hot, mostly vegetable and pasta and lentil soup. Following this we have a tagine of meat and vegetables, then oranges and dates to finish up. Rich Moroccan coffee is also served, but I opt for the lemon verbena tea (which they call Louisa), a better option if I want to get a good sleep.

Tonight it was cold, so the boys built a fire on the dunes and we all sat around listening to their drumming and singing. Cambo the desert dog joined us and seemed happy for the warmth of the fire and the people. I retired to my cozy hut and piled on the blankets to fend against the chill air. At least I’m not in the UK with all the snow, but I do wish it would warm up a bit.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Busy Week at UEA

The week has flown by and I haven't had a chance to post anything, but it's all been good. Last Sunday I got on my trusty steed, after a break of several weeks due to cold weather, and cycled to Mousehold Heath. I didn't know about the heath when I set off, but following my nose, ended up there quite by accident. I seem to be always drawn to open, grassy spaces and this place is certainly a destination when one needs to get away from the hustle and bustle. The heath has an amazing history, which I found out after I got home and visited Wikipedia. Since the 12th Century there's been a murder, several uprisings, and the scene of artillery training during the Second World War. The bombs left a huge depression in the ground, which has been turned into a small pond. Today, it's a peaceful woodland where people cycle and families walk with their dogs.

On Sunday I went with my new friends (introduced through Nan), Chris and Mary and their enchanting daughter, Bronwyn, to the Cathedral for the annual Medieval Christmas Fayre (as they spell it). First we went for lunch in wonderful cafe near the Cathdral. Then, fortified with delicious food, walked to the Cathedral just blocks away. It was an amazing event complete with a fire eater - something I've never seen first hand before. 

The man, dressed in a black Monk-like robe, stood in the grassy centre of the cloister, filled his mouth with some kind of flammable liquid, then put a flaming torch to his lips and blew. It was quite spectacular, the flames shooting about six feet into the air. Every time I tried to photograph it, I missed by milli-seconds. I should have taken the shot while he was filling his mouth and I might have caught the action. We walked around the cloister and looked at all the amazing stuff on sale, but I was good and refrained from buying any of it, tempting as it was. Feeling chilled to the bone, as if the stone walls had pulled the heat from our bodies, we went to the cafe in the Cathedral and had tea and cake. The highlight was a five-piece musical group singing 1940s songs and some carols. The four men and two women singers were excellent and I wanted to sing along, but no one else was so I restrained myself. I remember years ago when Kayla and Courtney were young, going with Mickey, Dennis, Luke, and Mariah to the Van Deusen Gardens' night-time Christmas festival and wanting to sing along with the carols that were being piped through the colourful lit gardens. I started singing along with O Holy Night...when Kayla, who I was carrying in my arms, leaned her head towards my ear and whispered, "Please don't sing, Nana."

Monday was the last class for the Biography course and we celebrated with a party at Thea's house, one of my fellow students. The house she shares with her partner, David, is small and crammed with books - they're both serious students. He is a lute maker and has a workshop out back where he spent most of the evening. A lovely man, and when I mentioned this to Thea, she said, "Yes, isn't he nice." Very touching. They're both in their late sixties, intellectually thirsty, and a joy to be around. The meal was incredible. We sat at a long table in living room, enjoying Moroccan dishes all prepared by Thea (with not a smidgen of dairy!). We were asked to bring only olives and homous and some wine. She'd prepared a mildly spicy beef tangine, another of chicken, couscous and a fresh green salad with romaine and pea shoots. She said it was in honour of my trip to Morocco next Tuesday, which left me quite speechless (unusual for me). There were ten of us all together, everyone from the class but two, who had to travel too far by train. Even Helen, our effervescent module leader, came and added to the laughter and repartee. The lively evening ended with tea and orange cake, and at 10:00 pm we were driven home by those with cars. Everyone was happy to have had the chance to celebrate the end of the semester. It's good to know that most of us will be going into the same modules in January, so it's not goodbye yet.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

An Early Christmas Present

Yesterday we had author Philip Hoare come and speak to our little group of ten. He's a great talker and sparkles with enthusiasm for his craft. His latest book "Leviathan" is a biography with a whale as its subject. This is of course a wonderful jumping off point to discuss whether that really fits into the genre of biography - to have an animal as your subject. It seems anything goes in this post-post-modern world of biography. I like it when people break the rules and get away with it. His book is a huge hit and he's laughing at his detractors all the way to the bank.

After the session ended, one of my fellow students - the American women, Michelle - and I went across the street to the Sainsbury Centre for the exhibition of three surrealist friends - Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna. This is the last week it's on and I was determined to see it before it left. It's an amazing collection of the work of Carrington and Varo, but there were none of the photographs of Horna, who wasn't a painter. Walking through the gallery and gazing at these incredibly fantastical paintings, being the only two people in the place, was strangely moving, and I'm not actually a big fan of surrealism. The paintings are hauntingly beautiful, and Carrington especially brings in a touch of humour to hers - bizarre humour. It's clear that the two women had a strong influence over each other's work.

When Michelle and I walked out of the exhibition and towards the exit, we passed the gallery shop, and noticing we had fifteen minutes before the place closed, had a browse through. We both landed right where the hard cover book was on sale for £30 and looked longingly at the two copies sitting there. We're both very tight to the bone right now financially, but still we lingered. The woman at the counter said, "Those are the last two copies we have." Michelle said that she couldn't possibly buy it because she's been "hemorrhaging" money since she came to the UK. I one-upped her and said I didn't have any money to hemorrhage. Still we lingered. Then I finally said, "Tell you buy that copy for me for Christmas, and I'll buy this copy for you for Christmas." Settled. We walked out clutching our books, and I was so absorbed with mine all the way home on the bus, I nearly missed my stop. Michelle got picked up by her friend, but emailed me today to say she'd stayed up until 3:00 am reading it. It's strange how things weave in and out of your life, but these women were great friends of Edward James, the wealthy eccentric who built a surrealist sculpture garden in Las Pozas, Mexico, where I've never been even though my visits to San Miguel de Allende have got me close to it. Never day.

Next week, unbelievably, is the last week of classes for this semester. I'm at the halfway point with the course work. The next semester starts January 18th, and while I still have two 5000-word essays to work on over the holidays, I'm feeling like I've got a good hold on things. I've finished the 2500-word workshop piece I'll be presenting to the group on Tuesday. We have an excellent camaraderie now - essential when a group critiques each other's work - and I'm not too worried about being lacerated.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Another Sunday Walk

Yesterday I made myself leave the flat because I felt something akin to lethargy creeping into my bones. I walked into the centre of town and got quite caught up in the merriment of late afternoon shoppers, feeling thankful though that I didn't have to run around like a nut buying Christmas presents and getting stressed out over what to buy whom. I think I may be able to sidestep Christmas altogether this year. They don't celebrate it in Morocco, that's for sure. Although fellow Canadian Nancy said we could put a string of lights on the palm tree in the garden if we really felt we needed to. The camels will be enough of a reminder for me. And the bright star in the East.

As I walked through the narrow cobbled streets, I saw some very Christmassy sights though, and luckily had my camera to capture the true spirit of the shops. It really is the closest one can come to a Dicken's Christmas - the shops aren't pretending to be ancient...they are!

Today was relatively warm (3 degrees C) and windless, so I thought I'd head in the opposite director to last Sunday's walk. This one took me about two miles to the east. I climbed steadily upwards until I got to a ridge that opened onto an ancient forest called Lion Wood, which is a local nature reserve (according to the sign on the path). It's actually mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1087, and is part of what used to be Thorpe Wood - a much larger track of land, now long gone, as are the wolves and wild boars that roamed freely. It was a beautiful walk, even in early winter, and for some reason reminded me of a walk I've taken many times on Keats Island - the walk from the main road through the woods to Plumper Cove. Maybe it felt familiar because I've also made that walk in the winter, many times.

Coming back down towards town, I crossed the foot bridge over the River Wensum and lo and behold what did I come to - The Adam and Eve Pub! The one I saw a few weeks back and decided to forgo because I was on my bike. This time I went in. I love the sign...notice "probably" the oldest pub in England. I opted for the vegetarian dinner which was delicious and came with a crispy lump of sagey stuffing, a thick slice of veggie burger-ish something or other, mushy peas and broccoli, and roasted potatoes, all covered in homemade gravy, which I'm sure came straight off the beef dripping (so much for the vegetarianism). I enjoyed it with a small glass of merlot (as opposed to a large glass - a choice you're always given). It was still light when I left the pub and I felt well fed and blissfully tired from the long walk and fresh air. Tomorrow's a school day, so now I have to buckle down and do some reading.

Friday 3 December 2010

Cold Winds Lash Norwich!

It's bloody cold! But not as cold as Wednesday when a real howler blew in all the way from Siberia. And there's snow too - not a lot, but enough to make the sidewalks a bit risky. Salting of sidewalks is not something I've witnessed here, but the roads get "gritted" by the "gritter" often. Those gritters don't give an inch - they dump grit on your car if you're stopped behind them, or so I'm told by one of my program mates, who knows about it first hand. Anyway, I stayed in all day and amused myself, surprised at how fast the time whipped by, like the wind from Siberia.

Yesterday I felt I really did need to venture out, lest I become a total recluse, so headed to the bus stop. One of the things I love about Norwich are the characters who get on and off the bus at various stops. After I took a seat, an old gentleman, probably in his late 80s, slowly and gingerly stepped onto the bus with his white cane tapping all around the door to make sure he was actually where he wanted to be. He was chuckling away cheerfully, thanking the bus driver for waiting. He took a seat across the isle from me and started chortling and carrying on, suggesting we all have a sing song (normally I'd jump right on that). I'm not sure if he even knew there were other people on the bus, and doubted he would have behaved any differently whether there were or not. Then he shouted, "Don't spare the horses!" and went all quiet, just muttering and singing happily under his breath until he got off in the city centre.

I arrived at the uni just in time to have lunch in one of the two eateries on campus. They do a great job of home-cooked meals, and for the grand total of £4, I had a roast beef dinner with roast potatoes and gravy, a mixed carrot-cauliflower-green-bean veggie thing, and a cup of tea. It's almost worth taking the bus in just for that. It's hard not to have any of the tempting desserts on display - always served with the familiar custard my mom used to make. But it's not worth the risk. I gave in and had a buttery cookie one day, and paid for it dearly. Why would I purposely inflict on myself a dairy-induced cold when all around me people are coughing and hacking from winter bugs?

While at the uni, I also put in a change of module for Semester 2, which I can't believe is coming up so soon. I had originally picked a course called "Post Modern Theatre" thinking it would be an interesting departure from the biography/autobiography genres. But almost everyone in my program has registered for the "Publishing" module thinking it'll be easier in terms of required reading. The one-week immersion course I took at SFU last summer covered all aspects of publishing, and I figured it would be boring going over the same material. This is the UK though, and there are differences in the publishing business between here and North America. Besides, one can never have too much information about publishing. I won't know for a day or two whether I can make the switch, but I'll keep my cold fingers crossed.

I'm adding three photos to this entry. One is a shot of my bedroom where I do quite a bit of reading and writing, and the other is a shot of the large open living space, where I eat, listen to music, and also do quite a bit of reading and writing. Working in the bedroom sometimes seems a bit confining, but it's cozier and warmer in there. I'm also attaching a shot of my Dickensian mittens which I picked up at the Saturday market for £1. A real must for these chilly winters day - and this is only the beginning of at least three months of winter. But there's the cheery prospect of Morocco on the horizon - less than three weeks away. Nancy has arranged for me to be picked up at the airport by a friend and his wife who own a riad in Marrakesh. They're going to take me through the darkest and most mysterious part of the souk (market) where I'll take photos for their website. I'll then write something that will hopefully attract tourists to their guest house - the promise of being shown a part of Marrakesh not seen by most Westerners. I just looked at the calendar - a propitious full moon will be shining over Marrakesh the evening I arrive.

Monday 29 November 2010

The Back Side of Norwich

On Saturday I decided to head off in a totally new direction, having not yet explored the area to the east of the railway station near where I live. It had snowed lightly, and the paths were a bit treacherous, but I made my way up a slope towards what looked like a ridge. I figured I'd be able to see the city centre from up there, and take some good shots of the sun shining on the cathedral spire in the far distance. I saw a path off to right with a sign saying "foot bridge" so followed it a way before coming to an amazing structure, which I assume is part of an ancient rampart that once surrounded the whole city. There were no signs, no plaques to describe what I was looking at. The photo above is the inside of the tower. I considered pushing open the old rusting gate and taking the flight of stone steps up to the top, but changed my mind. There was something strangely spooky about the place. It made me remember someone saying that Norfolk folks were all quite odd, given their population had been reduced by half during the bubonic plague of the mid 1300s. They are, in other words, quite inbred. For some reason, this all came back to me as I stared up inside that tower, so I did the smart thing and headed on down the hill.

I got safely back to the flat and had tea and biscuits, so indoctrinated have I become to the English way of life. It's funny though to go to the grad pub with some of the younger students and watch them order tea and crisps (potato chips). I asked them how they could enjoy something sweet with something savoury, and they said they don't put sugar in their tea. It's just not done - it's called "trucker's tea" if you do. (I guess I'm a trucker.) Here's a shot of the flat just after I got back from my hike. There was a dusting of snow, which you can barely see on the roofs of the houses across the street. I love the way the light pours in from the skylight and reflects on the walls.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

What is this space?

What is a blog anyway? Is it a place where the blogger expresses every little thing that goes on in her head? That's not my intention. I have a private journal for that. I'm well aware though of the huge elephant that sits in the room of this blog, things I don't talk about but that do occupy a place in my mind every single day. My reason for creating this public space was first to record my year studying in Norwich and second to provide my family and friends with my progress. It's challenging to find the balance between blathering too much about how I'm feeling and providing enough information to keep people from falling asleep while reading it.

Today is Wednesday, so I'm now home from the university until next Monday, unless I decide to make a trek to the library. I know what I have to Virginia Woolf's Flush, her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel, for a start. (I'm avoiding the "dog" word here, for personal reasons.) Then I have several reprints to read, a Phd dissertation to edit (paying job), Writing Centre work (paying job), and some writing to do for my own dissertation (unpaid job). It's so important to stay focussed and not distract myself by, for example, searching the internet for never-seen-but-always-wanted-to movies to download. That's what I'd really like to do though - an antidote to the intellectual calisthenics. But I do enjoy Virginia Woolfe, and even though it's very sad that she ended her life by walking into a river with heavy rocks in her pockets, I'm sure her accounts of Browning's Flush will be just as entertaining as, say, any of the antics of Sarah Jessica Parker and Co.

I just got back from my walk to the local supermarket called Morrisons, and I'm all stocked up for next few days. As I came in the door, the sky opened and a torrential rain is now rapping hard on the skylights. I think we're in for some cold wet weather, but nothing like Vancouver is experiencing. I've been reading the Vancouver Sun online, my way of spying on my home town, and it seems like winter has arrived there earlier than usual. Norwich too is bracing for a brutal winter, and today "severe weather warnings" were issued for this eastern part of the UK. I'm all cozied up though, with enough food to last at least a week, and enough books to last for the rest of my life.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Finally Some Humour

After all these weeks of slogging through the history of biography, reading the likes of heavy hitters like Plutarch, Suetonious, John Aubrey, Samuel Johnson, and Edith Gaskell, the way is brightening. I found a book in the list of secondary readings (not that I've read all of the primary readings yet!) - Father and Son by Edmund Gosse. It's a very funny book and was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the doldrums. Gosse's father was a rabid evangelist during the high Victorian period and the younger Gosse never quite believed the teachings that rained down on him day after day, sometimes all day. He mentions having to go around the village with his father, who was committed to bringing people into his particular evangelical Protestant sect. Gosse describes his father taking him into the homes of the poor, which he found really smelly and disgusting. He says, "One had to run over the whole gamut of odours, some so faint that they embraced the nostril with a fairy kiss, others bluntly gross of the 'knock-you-down' order; some sweet, with a dreadful sourness; some bitter, with a smack of rancid hair-oil." I must remember to recite that sometime at an appropriate moment: "I've detected a scent so faint it has embraced my nostril with a fairy kiss!"

This week the classes went really well, and yesterday I was given an encouraging response to my review of Poe's biography. Made me realize that this is exactly why I'm here, in case I'd forgotten. I have to write 2500 words for a workshop on December 14th, but feel confident about it. As a group too, we're starting to coalesce, and there's a real feeling of camaraderie - essential when it comes to having your work critiqued.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Grey Day

This whole week I've struggled with low mood, but sad is just the opposite of happy, and you need to feel both to be truly alive. Sunday was Geoff's birthday and that set the stage for it, then Nan leaving after a week filled with the stimulation of interesting people and new sights added more weight. The shops in Norwich are in full swing for Christmas, and walking through the lanes in the evening, looking into colourfully decorated and brightly lit shops makes me feel nostalgic. The biography of Edgar Allan Poe by Peter Ackroyd hasn't helped. I'm required to write a book review of a recent (past five years) biography and I chose this thin volume at Waterstone's Books only because it was the tiniest biography on the shelf. There's so much reading to do for the program, and I wanted to lessen the load a bit. Ackroyd describes Poe's life as being tragic from the beginning. His mother, who he adored, died from tuberculosis, which she contracted before he was even born. Then, each of the women he loved during his life: adoptive mother, friend's mother, and wife, all died of consumption. Another one died of insanity. One explanation for this succession of tragic losses, according to Ackroyd, was that Poe was attracted to "frail or damaged" women. Not exactly the kind of reading one needs when one is down in the dumps, feeling frail and damaged.

Yesterday was cold and cloudy, but I decided to get on my bike and take a ride to clear my head. I cycled aimlessly for about an hour, over the bridge and along the Wensum, and my mood soon lifted from the benefit of oxygen and endorphins. When I got back to the flat, my biographical subject was working on getting herself ready to leave for Morocco tomorrow, so I made myself a cup of tea, grabbed a plate of cookies, retired to my room and settled into Poe again. I'll be glad to be finished with him.

Around 8:00 pm Nancy called down the hall and invited me to join her for a G&T. We started talking about her early life in Vancouver and her time at art school. It's fascinating stuff and she's a wonderful raconteur, stories flowing out like water over river rocks, taking different directions, circulating back. We talked for over an hour and then made a supper of crisp bacon, boiled potatoes, and salad, continuing the conversation that will form my dissertation. I presented my biography proposal in a workshop last week and got some good feedback, especially in regards to the opening. It's more interesting to start a life story from anywhere but the beginning, so I plan to begin with Nancy's present life in Morocco, reflecting back on the past at various points. I hope that spending time in Morocco at Christmas will inspire me to write a rich account of her life there. I can't believe I'll be flying to Marrakesh in exactly a month. Yesterday I had a request to edit two dissertations, and even if it's adding to an already heavy work load, it'll bring in a bit of extra cash. It's all good.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Back to Routine

After a whirlwind trip with Nan around England during reading break, I'm back in classes. It was great spending time with her and visiting old friends. We picked up a Vauxhall from the car rental place and headed off, driving to Nottingham from Norwich on the first day, then travelling down to the Cotswolds and staying in a place called Chipping Campden - an absolute jewel of a town. The hotel was small but clean and cozy, and included a full breakfast. Nan wanted to see Hidcote Manor Gardens, famous for its topiary, but when we got there were told the gardens had closed to the public two days earlier. It was disappointing because it was a perfect day for viewing gardens. Not to be thwarted, and thinking we might be able to see them from the surrounding fields, we took a path that looked promising. Before we knew it, we were actually inside the gardens. For half an hour we strolled through the most stunning landscaped grounds with nary a soul in sight. Nan took photos and mentioned that you would never be able to get shots without crowds of people in them when the gardens were open to the public. 

Feeling hungry from all the fresh air and walking, we decided to get a pub lunch before heading to Bath. As we were leaving the car park, Nan backed into a tree that wasn't there before (ha!) and we checked the bumper to find just a little dent. We drove on and parked at the first pub we saw, but it didn't look promising so we backed out, this time Nan hit a trailer attached to a small car, and the damage was significant this time - although no harm was done to the trailer (or us). I told her she wasn't allowed to put the car in reverse from then on. It wasn't her fault, really, and she's a good driver, it's just that the visibility out the back window was almost nil. 

From there, we headed to Bath and checked into a guest house for two nights. We took a bus tour around the city and were shown points of interest, Jane Austen's house for example, and the Bath Abbey with its lacy facade, founded in 1491. The shops were brightly lit and inviting, so of course we had to take a cursory spin through floors of merchandise. 

We then headed off to Hampshire to visit Pip and Selina in Wield and spent two nights with them. They put on a very stimulating dinner party on the Friday night, with a total of ten, and the next day another visitor came down from London, Loren, a young woman in marketing, who brought a nice touch of youth into the mix. I've been visiting P&S for 25 years and their penchant for having a houseful of visitors and continual dinner parties has not waned. On Sunday, we drove to Marlborough (photo is of the chapel at the school) where P&S's daughter, Emily, is studying. She is a beautiful girl, well mannered and caring, and invited us for a tour of her room in the student residences after we'd been for a pub lunch and watched her field hockey match. I'm exhausted just recounting all of this. 

Nan and I got back to the flat in Norwich on Sunday night and Nancy Patterson was at home, so we had a G&T and recounted our travels. Nan left this morning and Nancy Patterson went to London, so I've got the flat to myself. Just as well. I had a meltdown this afternoon, probably from too much excitement and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the courses and the amount of reading.  I feel better now; that's why I'm able to mention it. I've been living in a bubble for the past seven weeks and being taken out of it and put into the real world brings out all sorts of emotions for me. I have to remind myself that I've taken a gargantuan leap, that I need to stay focussed on the task at hand and give it my all, not get soppy about those I've left behind in Vancouver.  Everything else will "become clear in the fullness of time."

Saturday 6 November 2010

A Social Life

Nan arrived from Vancouver, and I prepared a welcoming meal of salmon poached in white wine, fresh salad greens, and steamed asparagus. We were good, and didn't get too over excited, going to bed at a reasonable hour - 11:00 pm. Waking up full of beans, we had tea and toast then headed off to the airport to pick up her rental car. Nan's a great walker, but I had no idea when I agreed to go by foot that it would take us an hour and a half. And it wasn't exactly picturesque along the way, buses and cars zooming past and high winds lashing our faces. Three quarters of the way there, we decided to jump on a bus, only to be taken two blocks before we had to get of because that particular bus wasn't going to the airport. We went through the process of renting the car and were directed to a very nice new vehicle that will take us around the UK for the next twelve days. We then picked up Nan's friend Doreen from the train station and dropped me back at the flat. Doreen lives in London but has a house in the country and that's where Nan will base herself.

Later on, Nancy Patterson arrived at 10:00 pm all the way from Marrakesh by plane and bus - the same trip I'll make when I leave Norwich for Dar Sidi Bounou on December 21st for two weeks. I had a nice meal waiting for  this Nancy too - smoked haddock done in the oven with roasted yellow peppers, leeks, tomatoes, and white wine, served with parsley potatoes and green beans. We talked until 2:30 am! I told her how grateful I am to be able to call her flat home for the next nine months or so and to be able "eat, drink, and live" with her off and on for the time I'm studying. Because I've chosen her as the subject of my biographical dissertation we'll need to spend as much time together as possible. She's only in the UK until November 22nd, but I'll be able to hear more about her life when I go to Morocco. My dissertation is supposed to be maximum 60 pages, but I think I'm going to have trouble keeping it to that - there's so much rich material.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Reality Check

Today was incredibly stimulating, probably to the point where I won't sleep tonight. I went to my "Theory into Practice" seminar, which provides us with information about researching our subjects and discusses ethical issues around "spilling the beans" on people who are now dead. We also talked about the problems around using subjects who are still alive, and how to tread carefully. It can be a real minefield because you're giving the point of view of one person, but there may be lots of people out there who see a situation very differently. It's like when you're a kid and something traumatizes you (and can last your whole life), but your sibling might see the event quite differently. Both of you are right, it's just a different perspective. There lies the problem for a biographer.

My fellow students are so bright and well read, I often feel like an idiot Colonial. I'm not the only one though. Michelle, the lawyer from Missouri, feels the same. And she's one clever cookie. It's just that when people from Britain start throwing around names of people we've never heard of, it makes us feel like we're definitely living in a foreign country. I'm happy that the subject of my dissertation is Canadian, but has lived in the UK for 50 years. At least I feel I have a foot in both cultures.

So today is the beginning of reading week at the University of East Anglia, and I came home feeling like I was on holiday, forgetting the key words "reading week." I realize I have six books (big ones) to read, one 2500-word essay, and two 5000-word essays due after Christmas. So, no...this is not "a break," but an opportunity to do some serious writing. First though, I'll treat myself to just a little break.

Nan arrives tomorrow and I'm so excited about seeing her and spending some time catching up. It'll be strange though, sharing this flat with another human being after five weeks of solitude. I told some classmates today that if I were to suffer a fatal heart attack on a Tuesday evening, no one would even miss me until maybe the following Monday (Monday and Tuesday being my days at the university). After I leave the classes, I have no contact with anyone except for the bus driver and the cashier at the supermarket. People would say, "It's so unfortunate that she was gone all that time before anyone noticed."

Sunday 31 October 2010

Sunday Dinner

Today I needed to take myself out. Trouble was, after I read for a while, drank a cup of coffee, and looked at the clock, it was 2:00 pm. The shops close at 4:00 pm on Sunday and I really wanted to do a search of antique shops to replace the beautiful green tumbler I broke yesterday. This isn’t just any tumbler; this is probably 1930s depression glass, which is now very expensive. I noticed there are two left in the cupboard, so someone else broke the other one probably, but still, I need to replace it. I feel quite sick about it. I was draining nugget potatoes and one dropped out of the pot, right into the glass and smashed it. I know, what was the glass doing in the sink when I was draining potatoes?

I jumped on my bike, despite drizzly rain, and headed off across the foot path and over the river towards the cathedral. The trip doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes, but by the time I got there, the antique shop I had in mind was closed anyway. By now it was seriously raining and windy and I noticed a little pub called “Take 5,” which isn’t a very pub-sounding name, but I thought it looked cozy. The sign out front said they did a Sunday roast, which was exactly what I was hankering after. But the sign also said they were serving from 12 noon – 3:00 pm. I waffled, then locked up my bike and went in. I asked if there was any chance I could get the meal and she said she’d check, which she did, coming back and saying yes. I was so relieved. I really felt the need to feed myself well today. Last night I had the last of the soup, and it was definitely past its prime.  

The pub was cozy, with a fire blazing in the hearth. It probably dates back to the 1800s and it’s right across the street from the arch into Norwich Cathdral, which of course dates back to the 11th century. I ordered a glass of white wine, having decided on the roast pork with turnip mash and parsnips, roasted potatoes, and apple sauce. Just like I would have made at home on a blustery Sunday afternoon. It was unbelievably good, and I realized it was the first excellent meal, aside from Chris and Mary Laxton’s roast chicken dinner when I first got here and Pip’s roast pheasant of two weeks’ ago. It was time to spoil myself. I even went all out and had the homemade lemon sorbet, which was excellent, followed by peppermint tea. I’ll definitely go back there when I feel the need for more comfort.

So back at the flat, just as the light is dying, and back to the books. I have to write a short essay arguing the case for or against writing about a contentious issue. We were supposed to have read “A Very English Hangman – The Life and Times of Albert Pierrepoint ,” the last hangman in Britain, but the library copy was loaned out, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay good money to buy it. It sounds like a dismal story, which of course is why we’re being asked to write an essay about writing about people like Albert Pierrepoint. It makes me wonder who will end up writing a biography on Willy Picton. What kind of a psychological disposition would you have to have to delve into that story? And who would want to read the details about the horrific demise of all those poor women. I know it’s part of human nature, the good and the evil, but I choose not to delve into the dark side of life. Reading a biography like that would affect me for weeks. I remember years ago (1980?) going to see “The Elephant Man” with Marc, and every time I thought of it over the following few days, I cried. It’s hard to be reminded of man’s inhumanity to man (more politically correct: humans’ inhumanity to humans). It’s nightmare material.

Friday 29 October 2010

Venturing Out

One of the things I love about my schedule here is to be able to indulge that part of myself, part werewolf, part bat, that keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning, usually 2:00 am, but then makes it impossible for me to wake up early like everyone else in the world. I usually squint at the alarm clock at around 10:00 am. By the time I've had coffee, made some breakfast, read some course material or part of a required book, showered and shaved, it's noon or later. Today the sky was heavily overcast and I looked out willing the clouds to break up and reveal the sun, but nothing. Just heavy grey clouds. I'm used to it though. I come from Vancouver.

When I bought my new bike on Wednesday, I locked it up at the university and said goodbye until next week. But today I found myself missing it, and thought it not an outrageous idea to take the bus to the university and cycle back to the flat. The bus ride from here to the university usually takes 50 minutes. I looked at my watch and did the calculations. I could be riding back in the dark if I wasn't careful. I stalled. And then I thought what the heck - if it got dark before I arrived back on this side of town, I could just lock it to a post somewhere and jump on the bus. So off I went. I got to the university and there was Douglas waiting for me. I unlocked him and jumped on, feeling such exhilaration! I made my way back towards the city, or at least in the general direction. Before I knew it, there were road signs pointing to The Cathedral - the only reason the city exists is the Cathedral. Off I cycled, feeling more and more confident. I arrived at the Market Place, which I've become familiar with from my Saturday meanderings. Now I flew past like Lance Armstrong, heading towards the railway station, five minutes from the flat. But there was still enough light that I thought I'd rather cycle down the path along the banks of the River Wensum, so I headed in that direction. The road took me past the law courts and to an opening where the signs pointed to the foot path. Suddenly I came into a car park right next to a very old pub. I couldn't believe it when I saw the sign - "The Adam and Eve." I was in Norwich in 1975 with Mickey, wanting to give my sister the experience of another culture (which it certainly is), and we were taken to the Adam and Eve by a friend, who mentioned that it was the oldest pub in Norwich, dating back to the 12th century. You actually have to lower your head when you walk in the door because in those days people were much shorter than they are now. So to find the Adam and Eve purely by chance was a big thrill. There were groups of people chatting happily outside, it being Friday night and happy hour, and as much as I would have loved to have locked up Douglas and partook in a glass of wine, I resisted and comforted myself by saying I'd go back another time, when I didn't have to ride through the dark streets of Norwich towards the railway station under the influence of at least one glass of wine. Not a good idea.

When I got home, I called Nan and we had a long chat about the plans for our road trip. She'll be here in less than a week, and I'll have finished all the reading and writing for the courses just before the reading break, so we can head off without a care in the world. We're going to drive to Bath first, stay overnight in a hotel, and then head to Cornwall the next day. I haven't done this trip since Marc and I came here with Geoff when he was five - it was 1978. My memories of that time were happy, especially around taking Geoff to places that he found exciting, like the paper mill at Wells and the caves at Wookey Hole. But I realize that Marc and I too did not have a shared idea of happiness. I remember him taking Geoff off to do the laundry at the local laundromat and me heading off to "The Cobb," the long pier that meets the Atlantic, trying to look windswept and forlorn as the French Lieutenant's Wife in John Fowles' novel, which I'd just finished reading.

Tonight I passed Morrisons' - the local "Safeway" and decided I needed something nice for dinner - it's Friday night after all. I chose a small piece of Atlantic salmon (which I've become rather fond of). I knew there was one glass of red wine left in the bottle at home, so quashed the urge to buy more.

Came home to emails from distant lands - David in Mexico and Jill on Gabriola Island. I'll save them to read over a cup of tea and some ginger oak cookies from Morrisons' (for dessert).

Wednesday 27 October 2010

A Very Exciting Day!

Today the sun shone down on me. It was literally a sunny warm day, with just a light breeze. Felt more like August than the end of October. I didn't really have to go to the university, but there was a one-hour talk about choosing titles for dissertations, so thought it might be interesting. It was only slightly interesting.

I also wanted to check out the bike auction that the Norwich Constabulary was putting on. I got there early and had a chance to view many of the few hundred bikes they were going to auction off. There was one I particularly took a shine to because it was one of the few that a) had mud guards and b) had not only a basket, but a back trap and a bell. It also had five speeds and was a pretty pinky mauve colour. It wasn't too long before "my bike" was lifted onto the platform for the bidding war, which consisted of me and one other person. I won and got this little jewel for the incredible price of £35! I was so thrilled I immediately took it for a spin around the lake, known locally as the UEA Broads.

I saw a rabbit, several people walking their dogs, and a few fishers with their large khaki golf-style umbrellas fishing at the side of the lake. There are signs asking people not to swim there because of the dangerous depths - all very exciting! I then reluctantly locked up my little beauty (had to buy a lock, darn it) and thought it would be a good idea to notice any identifying brand names (not that I wouldn't spot her by her lovely basket) so I'd be able to find her amongst the sea of other bikes when I came back. I was quite shocked to see the name "Douglas" across her V-frame. All these little signs that keep people in my mind (and my heart, I guess), lest I should forget them.

Spotted another very quaint British sign today near the big field alongside the lake. They were warning people with dogs that there will be a "Sparkles on the Lawn" evening, meaning they'll be shooting off fireworks on Hallowe'en. God I love the Brits!

I decided that since I was on campus anyway, I'd check out the Sports Centre for the first time. It's actually the largest sports facility in the UK. The young woman at the counter was very warm and helpful and gave me a brochure outlining all the facilities. The cost is minimal - £6 to join and £1 to go to the gym or take advantage of any of the other many facilities. I plan to take yoga until pilates starts up again in January. The services to students here are amazing. UBC is good, but I don't think it offers as much and at so little cost.

I came home to an email on my UEA account from a woman in my class inviting me for coffee sometime because she realizes I'm alone here and wanted to let me know I really wasn't.  So, I not only got a new bike today, it seems I have a new friend too.

Tonight I celebrated with a glass of red wine and a bowl of the delicious soup I made last night - a concoction of Sunday's left over beef roast, parsnips, potato, celery, corn, and kidney beans. Not only nourishing but delicious.

Now I have to buckle down and read Elizabeth Gaskell's LIfe of Charlotte Bronte (1857) which I've downloaded free from the Gutenberg Project. I've made a vow not to buy any books while I'm here, at least if I can help it. It's the library or the Gutenberg for me. I just got rid of six huge boxes before I left Vancouver, and realize it's a little bit of an obsession with me - buying books. I really think it's time to stop accumulating "stuff" and feel I've made a very good start with this "end of year" resolution.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Comings and Goings

October 21, 2010

Today is my father’s birthday, bless his dark soul. He would have been 89, if he’d lived, but that would have been too much for him or anyone else in his orbit. Anyway, happy birthday, Dad - I hope you found peace.

I’ve been in Norwich for almost a month now, and am feeling much calmer and more confident. I’ve stopped losing things (touch wood), and I’ve lost that deer-in-the-headlights look. A nice rhythm has taken over my days – up (not early because I don’t go to bed early), coffee, write, read, take the bus to the UEA on the days I go there, lunch, library, seminars, coffee, home again. The reading is heavy in more ways than one. I was happy to leave behind Plutarch and Suetonius, but they’ve been replaced by Aubrey, Dr. Johnson, and Boswell. Thank god most of these books can be found electronically so I’m not having to lug them around in what has become known as “my office” – a sweet square bag on rollers I got for half price at Debenham’s that perfectly holds my laptop and books. I look and feel a little like a flight attendant, but it does the job. My neck was complaining to my shoulders and I didn’t want to end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’m amazed at how much I’m still enjoying the solitude of my life. I talk to other students and contribute at the seminars, but other than that, it’s back home to this wonderful flat and the refuge it offers. I can look out the massive windows to life going on outside, but I don’t have to be there. Yesterday there was heavy wind and hail, but I sat happily tapping away on my laptop while it lashed at the windows. And there is nothing to distract me from the required reading for the courses, because there’s no TV. Night before last though, I felt the need to come back into the 21st century, so I browsed through iTunes and downloaded “Sex in the City.” It was just the ticket – pure eye candy (in more ways than one!).

Last weekend I ventured out and took the train to Hampshire to visit Pip and Selina. It took four hours, but I read the whole way there and back, so didn’t feel I’d lost any valuable time. They were their usual wonderful selves and we had an evening with their friends for dinner, then a fabulous lunch the next day that Pip prepared – roast pheasant with red current jelly, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts (my favourite – no, really), washed down with lots of red wine, followed by apple crumble for desert. Kim and Kalid, old friends, were there, as well as a new couple I hadn’t met before, Rosy and Richard. Pip got me back to the train at Basingstoke JUST in time for the return trip to Norwich. Literally, I got on the train, sat down, and it left the station. Geez.

Nan is arriving in two weeks’ time, which is perfect because it’s reading week at the university and we’ll have some time to visit. In fact, she’s renting a car so we can drive not only to Hampshire but to Cornwell as well. I’m very excited about this because it means I can meet Stella, Anthony’s first and only wife. I’ve pretty much decided to use Nancy Patterson as the subject of my dissertation, and she's agreed. She’s had a fascinating life and it will make interesting reading. Not only that, but the way I came to stay at her place was positively prophetic. She and I now keep in regular touch by email and she's invited me to come to Morocco for Christmas and stay in the desert with her and her husband Daoud. I thought at first, I can’t do that, I don’t have any money. But then gave it a little more thought and concluded I couldn’t not do it.  The flight there is cheap - $300 – and when I get there I can spend ten days with Nancy, interviewing her and working on my dissertation. It should be quite the trip. These are the instructions she gave me to get from Marrakesh to her place…

The cheapest way to get to DSB is by the CTM Bus. It costs 200 dirhams each way and leaves Marrakesh at 11AM each day from the CTM Terminus which is on the outskirts of Kesh near the Rail Station.  It is about 50 Dirhams by taxi (10 dirhams= 1 euro) and takes about 1/2 an hour. Buy a ticket to M'HAMID. BOUNOU is 4 KM before M'hamid and is a “request stop” so you tell the driver to stop at “BOUNOU" when you get on and also later on just to remind him. The Bounou Bus Stop is right opposite our front Gate.

There is a good enough restaurant in the terminus so give yourself enough time... and if you are early have a coffee and a relax. It is a good modern coach, but does not have an onboard toilet.  It makes several “comfort stops” on the way where there are loos. There is a lunch stop of about 1/2 hour in the mountains at a place in the High Atlas called Taddert just before the Tichka Pass. There are restaurants that have nice individual tagines ready for serving and plenty of time to eat. The Driver always counts head carefully at each stop so never worry about being left behind. The Bus then stops halfway at Ouarzazate where there is a loo and a lot of people off and on the the Bus. Then on to Agdz where there is a coffee stand and a loo. Then through the Draa Valley to Zagora (where a lot get off)     and another loo. Then onward to Tagounite, the last “town” of sorts before the desert..... I am not sure about loos but there is a “restaurant” which probably has one.  About 40 minutes later you will get to Bounou where we will be waiting with a drink and delicious supper at about 9.30 to 10 ish....................and some welcoming music.

So I’m all set then. Must remember not to leave my bag on the seat of the bus when I go to the “loo.”  One of the things I will do when I’m there is take a camel trek across the desert at night and gaze over the undulating dunes illuminated by the moon and coruscating stars. Not a bad thing to do at Christmas.

Here’s a photo from Nancy’s terrace at sunset, Dar Sidi Bounou, Morocco:

Sunday 10 October 2010

Solitary, But Liking It

I've been in Norwich for exactly two weeks tonight, and have spent most of my time alone. It amazes me how comfortable it feels. I talk to the cashier at the grocery till and students in my seminar groups, but other than that and one evening spent with Nan's friend, Chris, and his family (my new friends) - it's been just me.

The flat where I live is spacious, open and bright, with windows looking toward the city centre and the famous spire of Norwich Cathedral. But here on Kerrison Road, it's quiet and while not far from the bustle of Norwich, feels like it.

I've finished my first essay and emailed it off to the prof just this evening (it's due tomorrow). While it probably took me only about two days to write it, I spent five days reading the material - Suetonius' Twelve Caesars and Plutarch's Parallel lives. I guess it makes sense to go back to the early biographers in order to study the modern ones, but it was a very tough slog and I'm glad to be done with it.

Yesterday, after finishing the reading and before I started the writing, I went into the city centre to soak up the energy of Saturday shoppers. It's great to actually recognize people from the university, and makes me realize that this city (it's a city, not a town, because it has a cathedral), is not very big.  The walk along the Wensum River is a real pleasure, the path making its way up to a lovely old square next to the cathedral. The houses there look like something out of an Ivory Merchant film adapted from a Jane Austen novel.

I look forward to the day when I feel settled enough to have some visitors - once I get the feel for my schedule. There are so many places to explore and it would be fun doing it with someone from home.

Next Saturday I may take the train to Hampshire and visit Pip and Selina. She called me on Friday and invited me down and it's hard to resist. It's probably a four-hour train ride, but it would give me the opportunity to read some of the books on the long list required for this course, and it would be so good to catch up with them. I haven't seen them for about seven years.

The sun was shining today, but I stayed in, except for taking some long deep breaths on the terrace. I needed to focus on this essay and feel so much better getting it out of the way. Now I can face the week with renewed energy.

Happy birthday to brother Jack tomorrow. And happy birthday to our mother on Tuesday. How lucky was she to have you for her birthday, Bro! Best wishes and lots of love.

Cheerio from Mo