Home, Really

The flight to Helsinki arrived close to midnight. The first thing that happened off the plane was that I routed myself somehow to the wrong arrival lounge. Airports are like Pitcher Plants, in that there are barbs preventing you from backtracking, so I had to summon a Person to ask how to get to my suitcase. She took me down the rabbit hole, to mix a biological metaphor, breezing through all the doors that the signs say you can’t go through without a card or tailgate or anything. It seemed very naughty. When America’s TSA reads this, they will classify Helsinki with Lagos and Port-au-Prince and that African airline which has only one plane that is permitted to enter the EU’s airspace.

And so to bed. Finnair has a shuttle to the downtown railroad station and taxis are there to take you to your hotel. The Eurohostel looks like a Hollywood Prison. Steel doors; but the rooms are unrealistically big. Rubber carpets. What?

The flight out of Helsinki was not until the afternoon, so in the morning I did one tourist thing exactly, which was to take the ferry to Suomenlinna and walk around the fortress. It was so interesting, to be cold. I had on the jacket that I had taken all around the world just because I would need it in Finland and Iceland.

Suomenlinna is one of the unused forts of the world. So impregnable, that nobody ever bothered to capture it, they just went around. Singapore comes to mind. Right now it is a World Heritage Site and a Prison. The Prison came as a bit of a surprise. There were signs pointing to the prison and I expected an Antique Prison with the usual wax museum, but after following the signs I came upon a knee-high fence with dormitories behind it, and a small sign about the size of a No Solicitors or Keep Off The Grass sign, that advised, authorized personnel only, and that was when I realized that the upkeep of the Heritage Site was being accomplished by prisoners who had slightly offended the government of Finland. The jail architecture was not nearly as demoralizing as the Eurohostel.

After I came back on the ferry I had a plate of whitefish at Market Square and bought a Santa postcard from a man who looked like Santa. Neither one of us mentioned the Santa aspect. It is a luxury which alike persons have, not to mention it.

I spent two nights in Iceland. Rented a car and drove out to Thingvellir, which is an absolutely fascinating place when you bear in mind what it is: it’s the place where Europe and America are splitting apart. This is the place that’s spreading at the rate that fingernails grow. You walk down into the cleft and shiver because you aren’t in Dubai any longer, although the bus stops there seem kind of chilly too. Only a minority of the landmarks of the world are such dramatic crevasses. Usually when a thing attracts tourists, it’s because it is a giant erection, like the Eiffel Tower.

The roads in Iceland have a tendency to peter out. Hertz would prefer you didn’t go off the pavement, but that’s not really possible. Lava makes a good surface anyway. I started to really understand CKY2K (The predecessor to Jackass, in which that troupe busts up a rental car in Iceland.)

I visited the Geysir, after which geysers are named. I stood in a cold wind and drizzle for an hour waiting for the sun to come out for one second to take a picture of Gullfoss.

I had perhaps the best meal of the trip, too, at the O Restaurant. The Icelandic economy has sort of fallen apart in the month between my visit and the time that I’m writing this, so I really think you should go there before the prices go up:

Shellfish and Cod cheeks
in a dill scented broth with pickled cucumbers, trout roes and a foamy shellfish sauce
1900 kr

with glazed baby back ribs of pork and pumpkin pureé
1600 kr

Icelandic lobster
pan fried with fennel salad, lobster butter, parsley coulis and crouton
4900 kr

Fresh doughnut
covered in cardamom sugar, green apples, caramel cream and milk ice cream
1400 kr

I tipped 15%, not knowing what to do otherwise. If you speak American you should tip American.

The next day I drove on some more bad roads and stood in line about a half hour to return the car. How come Hertz at Keflavik has such a stupid system? I haven’t ever waited that long to return a car before.

By the time I got to Boston I had a cold. It is a luxury I always permit myself on re-entering American jurisprudence. I stayed with Howie and Leanne. I have read that you don’t stay at people’s houses when you are grown up. Is that true? I saw and talked to as many people as I possibly could in one day in Boston, people I had gone to school with and from Opcode. Watched Howie play softball at night.

Howie’s team unfortunately lost 10-8 last night but it was a good game. A couple of people from Intermetrics were there, with whom I had worked in 1976, as well as my boss of that time, Dan, and Dan’s new girlfriend Susanna. These people are of course old. Dan and Susanna met in 8th grade in Ann Arbor and have got together after all these years. She’s an outgoing person. I could hardly keep up with the conversation.

Dan of course is still brilliant. He was recently interviewed for a documentary about the Apollo moon project. I think it was the BBC — the Americans are not interested in looking back to the dim and distant space age, that century flower of scientific civilization. The Chinese and the Indians and the Brazilians and the UAE and North Korea will duly plant their flags upon the moon to say they’ve been, but while you can overwhelm the laws of gravity you can’t change the laws of economics that dictate it makes a lot more sense to live and manufacture and travel at the locations and velocities you have evolved to. America will stop trading with China before we start trading with Mars. It costs less. Not only did hypersonic planes never happen, supersonic ones were abandoned in 2003 and in the last six months even subsonic aircraft are going slower because it costs too much to fly fast. As Ron Bohl pointed out, the first thing that a bird does when it finds itself in a safe place, is lose the ability to fly. Moore’s law is running with a negative constant.

There were not any tourist attractions in Boston, unless you count a flock of genuinely wild turkeys that lives in Newton between Howie’s house and Antoine’s, the pilgrimage site for cannoli. That bakery is wonderful and it was enlightenment to watch morbidly obese families picking out their favorite sweets from the case. You can’t deny anyone anything at Antoine’s. I don’t think that child murder has ever been more deliciously attractive.

The next day I flew to California via Philadelphia, because we still can, on US Air, which does not even supply free water. You have to buy it for $2 a bottle inside the security cordon. In the Philadelphia airport, I had a brief encounter with man at a kiosk who was selling Rosetta Stone language learning software — you know, the one that enables farm boys to get laid by Italian supermodels who have come to Iowa to converse with them.

“Does this run on a Mac?”

[indistinct conversation — is that the phrase they use in captioning?]

“A Macintosh. The [here I shifted gears back to my well practiced China/Korea/Dubai/Greece/Finland/Iceland make-yourself-understood cadence] com – pu – ter.”

[blank stare] “I don’ know.”

My first guess was he didn’t know about Apple, but the truth is, he didn’t speak English. I guess he’s the “before”.

It was cloudy most of the way to San Francisco where Dave met me and drove us straight to Ryan’s rehearsal dinner and now that I’ve explained that, I can get to sorting the ten thousand pictures which will explain it all over again.