Trans-Atlantic Travelogue #15

The Landing Gear is Out. Arrivederci!!

Exeter, England

September 5, 2001

Scoreboard: 13,345 miles; 7 Countries, 20 states

Papa's Pumas

Is there a 20,000 mile warranty on Papa’s Pumas?

Ok, that’s it! We’re comin’ in. It’s been a long and glorious run, and it’s time to recharge the batteries for our next run.

From Horsley we moved west, to Exeter, the point-of-entry to the English Riviera. No, that’s not a term I made up, it’s from the local tourist bureau. That being the case it doesn’t have many of the attributes of the “real” riviera, which is why we’re willing to spend an entire winter here. We stayed at a great camp where the center of youth activity is “the big tree,” and they had a campground bar-b-q and plenty of farm fresh cider on

From here we went down the coast to Plymouth, not much there, promptly came back up here. Exeter is a college town, albeit a somewhat quiet one, and a great location for us to work from.

Winter is coming on fast, we’re currently staying at a bed & breakfast (unimpressed with the “breakfast” I refer to it as a “bed and butter,” it’s also true that I think cold pizza is the only sensible breakfast that there is), and looking for a good seasonal rental through the end of March.

It’s a good town, it’s got a feel that we like. The girls are excited about school, and there are plenty of good winter time side trips to keep us feeling like we’re still on the move. The entire Cornwall coast, Wales, London for Christmas, the Dartmoor Forest, Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor…all within 150 miles one direction or another.

Dartmoor Forest is especially promising. There’s a university professor, who has been published extensively on the subject of “What’s the Most Influential Novel in the History of Mankind About Devon County?” who puts on his Sherlock Holmes hat every weekend, for the past 30 years, and leads expeditions into the forest. They reenact The Hounds of the Baskervilles as closely as they’re able and I dare say that at some point soon
we’ll join them.

The forest, for the uninitiated, doesn’t have many trees…”It’s pretty bleak,” all the locals say.

I’ve not read The Hounds of the Baskervilles. I did read a brilliant satire in Mad Magazine once entitled The Hounds of Basketballs.

I still have my Louisiana/Washington/California hybrid accent, and Theresa her Arizona/California/Washington, but the girls are starting to sound decidedly British. They’re still learning the language you see, and everyone else around them is saying things like “Really?” in a tone that suggests driving up Mount Everest at breakneck speed in a ’75 Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer.

We like the British. We like the Spanish, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Danes, the Irish, the Welsh, Americans. We’re happy to be here.

“When will you come back?” It’s never been a question that I’m able to answer. At first I would say, “a few years,” or “whenever Bush or Gore isn’t President.” By the time we got off the boat in Barcelona the standard response was “about ten years.”

I’ve come up with a new, and definitive one.

“When Warren Beatty is President.”

We aren’t enthusiastic about most of what’s going on in the American government, but smart money is that we won’t be terribly impressed with any other governments once we gain enough familiarity to support contempt. Dreamers and idealists never like compromisers, or sell-outs.

When you jump off the cliff you open yourself up to all kinds of possibilities. In a reasonably functional family the parents take the big hits (stress only, it always works out) and the kids enjoy incredible growth.

Kasmira has become a social force to rival the great north wind. She pulls into a campsite, or B&B, and reorganizes the social structure to conform with her every whim. It helps that we’re “Americans,” (5 of 6 of us enjoy US/UK citizenship, Theresa is, as I said, a ‘zonie). America is, for better or worse, both, the center of western culture. Even people who don’t like Britney Spears loved Titanic, Burger King haters enjoy Pizza Hut,

Boys in the audience

The local boys are astonished

there is no more popular band among European young people than Nirvana, Bart Simpson is the most popular cultural icon on the continent, adorning everything from birthday cakes to paper towels.

At Horsley Kasmira organized a dance presentation, to the tune of various Europop-techno acts (mostly American) favoured by her friends. She’s always had these grandiose plans, and for the first time ever she followed through. There must have been 50 campers in the audience!

Alexandra has always been the most sensitive of our children. Presented with the opportunity to make friends quickly, or not make friends at all, she’s become more outgoing. We were all moved by Lourdes, but maybe Alexandra got the most out of it, she hits the library wherever we go looking for books on Mother Theresa. Her poetry was always brilliant, for any age, but she’s blossomed on a near weekly basis: her worst stuff is
way better than my worst stuff.

Amelia is the third child, shadow of her sisters. Not! Amelia is the most independent of the lot, and she was the first one to perfect the art of making friends with kids who don’t speak the language. She just nods, keeps talking, and gets them to understand. No problem. I think she battles her sisters for fun when she gets bored, but she loves ’em, and the bonds that build from five months in close quarters cannot be exaggerated. You make it happen, or you don’t. You learn to make it happen.

Myles has had to bear the weight of being the most popular, and recognized, man on a cruise ship at the age of 1. He’s picked up bits of various languages along the way, never complaining when the greeting changed from “Howdy,” to “Hola!” to “Bonjour.” He might look perplexed a time or two but he’s a friendly guy, he’d fire back whatever he was given. His confidence is unbelievable at this point. Other kids his age hang onto Mama, he’s an explorer. Yeah, he shocked himself in an electric socket one day…adventurism ain’t sittin’ on the couch, but faint heart never won the fair maiden.

Speaking of the Fairest Maiden…it’s incredible how Fate has a way of putting people together who belong together. I’m comfortable saying that most folk would have folded under some or another pressure that we’ve faced these past months….neither Theresa nor myself ever fought, never even complained much, we just kept digging. We deal well with adversity, which is nice since my strategies provide so much of it.

I’ve enjoyed writing this column. I’ve loved telling you about the special little things that have made the trip special, of mixing travel tips and random free association, of making fun of people who are awed by James Joyce…but all good things must come to an end and don’t look now but they’re starting to sweep stage left.

As I look out the window I can see one of the most spectacular cathedrals in England, as I look right I can see that I’m almost ready for another English ale, looking to my left….just a sink….look man, travel ain’t all Acropolis and Chicken Vindaloo…

Chicken Vindaloo! I’ve always wanted to eat it, ever since I heard the following lyrics on a Ramones album more than twenty years ago:

Hangin’ out on Seventh Avenue

Eating Chicken Vindaloo

I Just Want something to do

I Just Want to be with you


I never even knew what Chicken Vindaloo was. What ethnicity, or anything. Just knew I wanted some. We pulled into Plymouth, south coast near the waves, at around 9 pm. The B&B that had been recommended was a disaster. We’d already made reservations and paid, spirits were low.

We had to eat out. They recommended a pub (they would! and I’d think it was a good idea) a few blocks away. Naturally it wouldn’t let in children after nine o’clock, but recommended another pub a mile away that would. We walked, and they wouldn’t, something about licenses. After ten o’clock, everything closed.

A pink neon café called The Indaya Café was the only thing open. It was packed, always a good sign, but so packed (bad sign) that they couldn’t seat us. They could have seated us, but only in the waiting-to-be-seated section. They served big Imperial Pints of bitter, I’m happy. Myles is rocking, Theresa’s stressed.

By the time that they seat us for real we’re all stressed. I’m bitching that it took five times as long as they promised, etc. When Theresa’s stressed it’s bad, when I’m stressed I make it unbearable for everyone around.

We look at the menu: CHICKEN VINDALOO!!!!

That’s different. I’m better, Myles is better.

I’m not a werewolf, I’m not a visionary, I’m certainly not a saint – but I can read the writing on the wall when the menu lists something I’ve wanted since I was too young to drink beer in public (but did anyway).

For reasons that defy explanation, and certainly don’t have to do with results to date, Theresa implicitly trusts my judgment.

“Two Chicken VINDALOOS please…”

Chicken Vindaloo is, without any question whatsoever, the hottest dish ever invented in this solar system. Theresa wisely mixed a little with her rice, my rice was buried immediately. Kasmira got the slightly more sensible Chicken Madras and burned her tongue with the first bite (Kasmira has a taste for hot food that I’ve never seen in anyone her age, she put Wasabi on crackers for months when she discovered it).

God Bless Joey Ramone’s soul, but when the pivotal moment came I made the mistake of breathing in at the same time I took my third bite of Chicken Vindaloo at the Indaya Café in Plymouth, Devon, England, United Kingdom.

I started coughing. Couldn’t stop. My eyes watered, without cessation. My nose ran. I waved my arms, they understood, more beer showed up, the waiter laughed at me. “Is everything awlraight, suh?”

Chicken Vindaloo is everything that I hoped it would be. More. Somewhere far above Joey Ramone had a smoke, and leaned on the shoulder of Fred “Sonic” Smith, and said something about “punk rock cuisine.”

The Trapps say goodbye

So long, goodbye, auf wiedersehen, good night…The Trapp Family in

Our lives have been richer for this experience. Thank you for noticing our little adventure. I have no regrets, I urge you not to have any regrets.

And now it’s time to say good-bye

to Clayton and all his kin

the Trapps would like to thank you

for kindly droppin’ in

next spring they’ll be found again

at many a locality

livin’ out their dreams and loves

an’ doin’ as they please.

(banjos fade)