My friend's mutt, finding happiness and interesting lighting in Durham, N.C.:
I'll have a Parker update Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned.
In the last half 2018, I made a number of changes in my life that I had put off for years. I moved, got a new car, repaired my dog, and made a couple of changes in my personal life to clear a solid path for next year. What that will bring overall, I have no idea.
Every year at this time I post some statistics for comparison with previous years. In 2018:
- Travel was way, way down; in fact, I traveled less in 2018 than in any year since 1998, with the longest gap between trips (221 days) in my entire life. Overall, I took the fewest trips (7) on the fewest flights (11) to the fewest other countries (1) and states (7) than in any year since 1995. I did beat 2017's total flight miles (44,680 km this year against 31,042 km last year), but only because of three trips to London. (Side note: the Republican party shut down the US government during two of those trips.)
- I posted 518 times on The Daily Parker, up 62 from last year and 59 from 2016, and the best showing since 2013 (537). The A-to-Z challenge helped.
- Parker only got 133 hours of walks, significantly less than last year, principally because of his leg injury. Not to mention he's 12½, slowing down, and wants a nap, dammit.
- Fitbit steps didn't change much: 5,262,521 for the year, up 2% from last year. It was, however, my best year for steps since getting my first Fitbit in 2014. It also had my biggest stepping day ever.
- Reading went up just a tiny bit, from 17 to 24. One of my friends read over 100; I'm not going to be there until I take a year off from work. (I predict that will happen in the 2040s.)
The only resolution I have for 2019 is to bring all of these numbers up, but only slightly.
A couple of news stories have dogged me this week.
First, the TSA has determined that travelers—particularly children—find floppy-eared dogs less threatening than pointy-eared dogs:
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency is also making at least one new change to reduce traveler stress: deploying more floppy-ear dogs, rather than pointy-ear dogs, to sniff out explosives in public areas.
During a recent tour of Washington Dulles International Airport, Pekoske told the Washington Examiner that his agency believes floppy-ear dogs are less intimidating to travelers than dogs with pointy ears.
“We find the passenger acceptance of floppy-ear dogs is just better,” he said. “It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.”
The agency says it trains seven breeds of dogs: German shepherds (pointy ears), Labrador retrievers (floppy ears), German shorthaired pointers (floppy ears), wirehaired pointers (floppy ears), Vizslas (floppy ears), Belgian Malinois (pointy ears) and golden retrievers (floppy ears).
Because of the federal shutdown, TSA representatives could not be reached to comment on how the agency will transition to more floppy-ear dogs.
Meanwhile, a new California law taking effect tomorrow allows divorce judges to take into account the best interests of family pets, rather than just treating pets as personal property as has been the law since time immemorial:
The law was sponsored by dog owner and state Assembly member Bill Quirk and signed by dog lover Gov. Jerry Brown (Lucy, a borgie, is the state's first dog and Cali, a bordoodle, is the first deputy dog). The measure empowers judges to consider "the care of the pet animal" and create shared custody agreements.
The law "makes clear that courts must view pet ownership differently than the ownership of a car, for example. By providing clearer direction, courts will award custody on what is best for the animal," Quirk said after the bill was signed.
Legal experts said the law means judges can take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with.
Now, I'm pretty sure pets are still personal property under the law, and won't get treated like people. But who's a dog-friendly state? Who's a dog-friendly state? Is California a dog-friendly state? Yes it is! California is a dog-friendly state! Good legislature! Good governor!
I wish I could stay longer. London in winter isn't so bad. But I'm sure I'll be back in a couple of months.
Meanwhile, I need a nap. I've got an 8-hour flight to take it on.
I got lost in here for an hour:
This is Hatchard's, the oldest bookstore in London. If I had much more time or if I were checking a bag tomorrow, I'd have bought more books. You know, to go with the hundred or so I haven't read yet...
Jennifer Finney Boyan explains the English tradition, along with its Irish counterpart:
In England, it’s Boxing Day; in Ireland and elsewhere, it’s St. Stephen’s Day. When I was a student in London, my professor, a Briton, explained that it was called Boxing Day because it’s the day disappointed children punch one another out.
For years I trusted this story, which only proves that there are some people who will believe anything, and I am one of them.
The real origins of Boxing Day go back to feudal times, when workers on a lord’s estate would ask, on this day, for a Christmas box, in exchange for good service throughout the year. Later, the tradition expanded to include the collection of alms for the poor.
In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day brings the appearance of the Wren Boys— costumed revelers engaged in a ritualized hunting of a wren. The best-known Wren parade happens in Dingle, in County Kerry. There’s a lot of marching around and collecting of money, some of which goes to charity and some of which — according to at least one of my Irish friends — goes to pay for a round at the pub. The veneration of the wren predates Christianity, in fact: The Irish word for wren, “dreoilin” — comes from two words, “draoi ean,” the druid bird.
In London on this Boxing Day, few stores have opened, but at least the Tube has resumed a normal schedule. And, of course, the sun hasn't come out from behind the low overcast all day. Perfect British winter weather.
After an amazing dinner at One Aldwych this evening, I grabbed a book from my room* and headed down to my own hotel's bar. Between the two places I met people from Italy, Spain, Cape Verde (via Portugal), Germany, Russia, Poland, Sardinia (yes, a part of Italy), and Wales (yes, a part of the UK).
London has made itself over the past two decades into this kind of mixed, cosmopolitan, vibrant city. I hope it continues; Brexit could kill it. So I'm glad I'm visiting now while it's at peak international. (The $1.27-to-£1 exchange rate doesn't hurt either.)
More photos. First, it was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames (compare with this one):
Second, the other side of St Pauls, along with yours truly and a pint of Beavertown Brewery Neck Oil Session IPA, at Founder's Arms on the Queen's Walk:
Finally, one of the greatest cultural centers in modern Europe, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden:
And now, as my body thinks it's just coming up on 4pm, I will take yet another walk. London is a beautiful city; there's little I like more than just exploring it.
*An excellent and personally-relevant history of urban "renewal" in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago called The Battle for Lincoln Park.
Christmas Eve, not Hallowe'en, is the night Londoners tell ghost stories:
The city’s occasional creepiness has been actively fabricated, a product of its history of destruction and haphazard rebuilding. It has long been a canvas for only semi-realized grand designs, from Christopher Wren’s 17th century plans to turn the city into a second Florence to 1970s schemes to flatten historic Covent Garden Market. Destruction in the form of fires, bombing and brutal redevelopment have also reshaped the city, scorching the past away supposedly to replace it with a brighter, sunnier future.
That future never quite arrives. Great schemes get their ambitions slashed, while traces of the past are never truly effaced. London thus resembles an architectural lumber room whose random contents are waiting to be sorted into their correct order. Cottages still cower under the expressway and graveyards are shaken by passing trains. Glass and steel towers may rise, but they do so over pits full of plague corpses or along the line of old ditches once filled with dead dogs. Everywhere there are semi-effaced reminders of the past, sometimes delightful, sometimes sullen and (to the suggestible mind) resentful.
London has so many of these part-effaced remnants that it’s no wonder stories get spun around them. It’s so easy here to imagine the fields being paved over, the bombs falling, the wrecking ball swinging, and the old inhabitants being moved on. With old housing projects being demolished, skyscrapers rising and rent hikes scattering people from their old neighbourhoods, London is still changing radically, of course. And I sometimes wonder what we present day Londoners are leaving behind of ourselves, and whether it too might give future residents the shivers on a dark night.
It also has throngs of the living tonight. I just pushed my way through Covent Garden and Soho, completely underestimating the crowds. Most of the places I'd like to hang out this afternoon close early, but apparently the tourist center of London is open for business. I'm sure there are a few ghosts there as well...
I've arrived safely in the Ancestral Homeland, and as my body will tell you, it's too early to text anyone back home to let them know.
Right now I plan to sleep. Assuming I wake up sometime today, I'll get some caffeine, possibly a bite, and then walk around my second-favorite city in the world for a bit, aiming to queue up for St Paul's midnight service sometime around 22:30. (I might also try to get in to the Christmas carol service at 16:00; haven't decided yet.)