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

 

 





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.

 





Fantastic Sky

17 07 2013
The boys of summer

The boys of summer

I tend to look at the sky a lot out here. There’s good reason why this part of the country is called “Big Sky.”  The cloud formations are incredible, especially those puffy cumulus clouds mixed with a blue atmosphere that goes on and on. I am grateful to awake each morning to a new adventure, new people and new stories.

I dutifully walk over a mile to work every morning and eat three square meals a day in the EDR (Employee Dining Room). The deal is, to work in a national park like Yellowstone, you have to live inside the park and so you are provided housing and meals. Those charges are taken out of your paycheck and usually there’s just enough money left over for gas.

“You are not here for the money,” we remind ourselves daily. Still, I’m wondering if I’ll have enough in the bank to get back to Florida. I did not bring my jeep out here which was a major miscalculation. Public transport is inept at best. Tales of people being left stranded throughout the park are quite common as is the sight of hitchhikers thumbing a ride.

During our training in Mammoth, I was lucky enough to bum a few rides from my colleagues. I rode to Bozeman one day with Jerry, a retired banker from the Orlando area, Terry, a school teacher from Nebraska and Joe, my roommate. Jerry and Terry, both Vietnam veterans in their 70s, were quite a pair. They played well off each other and kept the rest of us smiling. Terry is especially entertaining, with his storytelling and sincere love for Yellowstone. He first worked in the park in the early 1960s, returning five decades later, admittedly, to seek out lost youth.

“We used to feed the bears you see,” Terry would say, always emphasizing the “you see” part for dramatic effect. When Terry would enter the EDR, someone would invariably announce his arrival with the word, “Showtime!” Terry is well liked by many of his co-workers. “There was a dump out in West Yellowstone you see,” Terry continued. “And we would ride out there at night to watch the bears eat. They’d stand up on two legs and growl at each other. It was FANTASTIC!”

Everything in Yellowstone is fantastic to Terry and he loves hearing other people share their experiences. On our trip to Bozeman, the four of us piled into Jerry’s full size king cab pickup truck. We stopped in Livingston and paid a visit to Dan Bailey’s fly fishing shop. Across the street sat the train station where Terry was quick to reminisce about passenger service which had long been discontinued.
Once in Bozeman, I got the guys to agree on trying a hippie co-op downtown that Joe and I discovered on our first night in Montana. All the food is fresh from local farms, grown organically and many of the dishes even I could not pronounce. There were several flavors of protein shakes, entrees of tofu and kale and plenty of gluten free grub to go around.

“I wonder if people eating this will get a whole new set of medical conditions,” Jerry mused. Hanging out with such a senior set, health and wellness issues were always on the tip of a nearby tongue. There were obvious risks at play. Since arriving in the high altitude of Yellowstone, Joe had struggled with his balance and took to walking with a stick. He was also having trouble grasping the company’s computer system, although he wasn’t the only one, still privately there was talk that Joe might not be cut out for Yellowstone living. I hoped this would not be the case. Joe is a kind hearted person, quick to share his pistachios or crack a joke to lighten the mood. When I had come down with a sore throat a few days after settling into Mammoth, it was Joe who dug through his medicine bags and found just the right remedy.

On the drive back to Mammoth, Terry regaled us with code words from his Vietnam days. As we drove through the stunning Gallatin and Absaroka mountain ranges, I learned for the first time what — or rather who — a “Mackerel Snapper” is. Raised Catholic, I found this outdated slur to be amusing. The day itself was a blast. One of the better ones I’ve had here. Sadly, Joe and Jerry are gone now. Both have returned to Florida for different reasons. Terry, at last count, is working at the Lake Yellowstone location, while I’m still predicting eruption times at Old Faithful and looking to the sky — cherishing every minute.

Big Sky over Mallard Lake

Big Sky over Mallard Lake