Chocolate Surprise

9 05 2015

My conversion with the Cardinal reached many levels. It was a moment in time.

We spoke of the Church and its role throughout history, a dark role, particularly when it came to priests who had abused — in some cases, sexually – young alter boys. I found this part of the Church disgusting. The Cardinal acknowledged a medevial element to the Church and its archaic ways of only men serving in the priesthood and the elaborate outfits they wore and the fact the could not marry or have sex.

We also talked about AIDS and the disease that was taking a horrible toll in Africa and globally. He was working on a film project, a preview of which was presented following the mass we attended in Mayfair. In the film, many Church patrons and clergy speak of AIDS and tell their story of living with the disease. In Africa, sadly, there are many stories.

Some even produce tears.

I left the Cardinal’s flat and returned to the Underground, Oyster Card in hand and minding the gap. On the train back to Victoria station, a young man wearing a American Navy jacket sat across from me. He was younger than I and smaller. On his brown leather jacket was a patch identifying his fleet assignment. I wrote the number down and did the research. They were docked in southern Italy.

We parted ways at the Victoria station. I power walked down the Strand in order to meet JB at King’s College for our scheduled appointment. His office has an incredible view of London with an impressive collection of books and a detailed map of Europe that was distracting to say the least. We walked down to the ice skating rink and discussed Paris. It was cold but the spirit of the holidays made for a cheerful spirit, not to mention we were close to the theatre district.

058

On a previous visit, JB and I had enjoyed the musical Avenue Q, puppets and all. There was no budget for such a luxury this time around. I was reminded just how poor I was when we entered the Burberry store and none of the sales staff would look my way. Eventually, I was able to engage a young lady about the cost of a signature Burberry scarf. She quoted something absurd in pounds which prompted JB and I to depart rather quickly, JB with a subtle shot as we left.

“That’s half the cost of your airfare, John,” he grinned.

We joined Chris and David for drinks that night at the local cocktail bar in Bloomsbury. I explained to Chris the fascinating party I had attended in Paris as the guest of a Moroccan man. There were thousands of men inside the building and I had been privileged to a small sampling of how arabian men enjoy the nightlife. I was guarded with the details as this had been an entirely new experience for me and I was still unsure of what it all meant. I was, however, grateful for the hospitality Chris, David and JB had shown me during my visit to London.

In the morning, I would hop on an American flight back to Miami. First purchasing a gift for Mom at the Harrod’s in Heathrow. I had it wrapped by a local charity in purple colored paper and bows. In Miami, Homeland Security asked what the box contained.

“Truffles,” I said.

“What are those?,” he asked.

“Chocolates,” I replied.

Yes, the holidays in Alabama this year would be much sweeter.228

 

 

Advertisements




Tea With The Cardinal

21 03 2015
All Aboard

All Aboard

My Hammam experience was far from thought on the train ride back to London. I was preparing for my next important interview — with an Irish Catholic Cardinal. I met the Cardinal a week earlier during a World AIDS Day mass in London’s Mayfair District. I approached him after mass during an informal coffee and conversation session inside the fellowship hall of the Church of the Immaculate Conception Farm Street. I gave him my card and disclosed my Catholic hertiage and interest in the Church. Much to my surprise, he responded a few days later, via e-mail, requesting I visit with him at his home in southwest London.

I left Paris before the break of dawn. The Euro Star is worth every penny. It is fast and connects people swiftly under the English Channel on a daily basis. This particular car was full. The man sitting next to me was a French businessman who shared his copy of “The Spectator” Magazine. I found the content, while obviously conservative, quite interesting. He asked about America, I said the country appeared headed for a re-run of the 1992 election. I asked about France, specifically the rise of Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Ms. Le Pen was quite the talk back at the Paris hostel where I had camped out for the weekend. Many of the young ladies I polled in the kitchen one evening during dinner had rejected the notion that Ms. Le Pen was a feminist. I found this fasnicating as I did most of the Parisan culture.

The French businessman dismissed any assertion that Ms. Le Pen was not a woman. He seemed only interested in my thoughts on Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. I said an election between the two would be costly. After that we said nothing more on that subject. Once we arrived in London, he made a quick dash for the door, saying he was late for a business meeting. I was in no hurry, my appointment with the Cardinal was later in the afternoon, so I hung around the train station and took a few pictures. Much like Gare du Nord, London’s St. Pancras station is fascinatingly put together with a mix of modern conveniences built into old world architecture.

The Cardinal lived south of the River Thames. I got off the tube in Stockwell, directions in hand, and proceeded past an Irish corner pub and into a section of government housing projects. Once I arrived at the apartment, I noticed a sign on the front of the door which declared, “Sonny Does Not Live Here. Nor JD nor Taylor. Wrong Door!! No Sex No Drugs.” I found this quite interesting even though I was after neither, instead seeking simple counsel. Back in the south of Florida, I had begun writing about AIDS. The subject was challenging and broadened my journalistic abilities. It has traditionally been written about in the American media as a horror story and yet I was discovering more and more remarkable tales of bravery.

Cardinal Warning

Cardinal Warning

I was hoping the Cardinal could give me the United Kingdom’s perspective. I knocked on the door and Vincent invited me in.

“Come in, John, I’ve been expecting you,” he said. “The kettle is on.”

His apartment was full of books. It was small, humble and somewhat disheveled. I was there for almost three hours. Talking, sharing life stories. It was amazing. During our visit, a man and his apprentice came to check on the water line. Vincent was the building superintendent and the men needed direction. I said hello but nothing more. Once they left, I began my probe.

The Church, Disease, Power, Charity and, most important of all … Surrender.

 





Off to the Big Easy

23 02 2012

The drive to New Orleans was fun. We rented a car at the new Panama City airport and departed on a gorgeous January day. A new year beginning with longtime friends reuniting on a trip across the Gulf Coast.

Bjork didn’t have an American driver’s license so I handled the chores and was glad to be behind the wheel of a new Chevy Cruze. Like most seasoned travelers, Bjork was eager to check a few more states off his bucket list. This trip would be his first venture into Alabama and he joked that a new controversial immigration law the state had recently instituted might place us in danger.

I doubt those lawmakers had Brits in mind when they crafted this legislation. Nevertheless, we skirted across the Alabama coastline, stopping briefly at a “welcome center” to use the facilities and study some the of historical images plastered across its walls.

Bjork was fascinated by the civil rights struggles of the Deep South and the antebellum traditions that still remained entrenched across Dixie. In New Orleans, we toured some of the landmarks, cemeteries and museums that contained those stories as well as some of the more modern aspects  of Southern life.

On our first night in the Big Easy, we dined at a very upscale French restaurant. Bjork made the reservations in advance and I donned a jacket for the special occasion. It had been a while since I had been in such a nice restaurant and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We talked a lot about my future, the frustration of my extended unemployment and desire to relocate.

Bjork has always been a good listener. I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t have snapped him up a decade ago when I had the chance. I could be living in London now, living the ex-pat life with the intellectual elite crowd.

“David seems like a really great guy,” Bjork said, moving the conversation to what I did have.

“Yes he is,” I replied. “He has saved my life.”

“In what way?” Bjork asked.

“He has rebuilt me,” I said. “And he has brought me closer to God.”

For some thinkers this admission would have opened a whole debate about religion and the very existence of a higher power. Bjork didn’t go that route, however, and for good reason, I suspect. He had recently had a book published about the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe and confessed he was a spiritual person.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” I said. Bjork grinned and sipped on his glass of wine. It was one of those moments.

After dinner we rode the streetcar back to a boutique hotel in the garden district, where we bedded down for the evening. Along the way, I received a familiar text message from David.

“I love you” it read.

It was just what I needed to keep the allure of Bourbon Street at bay. I went to sleep that night happy to be traveling again with a dear friend and comforted to know I had a hero waiting for me at home.