Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla stands grey and forlorn beneath palm trees in a February mizzle. It’s Hotel California, on a rainier day.
There’s a faded, nonchalant elegance here in this mountain spa. On the main street, a goofily smiling old bloke sits outside the baths, trousers rolled up and feet dangling in the hot stream. We smile and wave, because frankly, we’re more mad than him.
The unforgiving Andalucían desert stretches far and wide below us. Scattered plantations, yucca, palm trees. Grey gravel, scrub and miles and miles of waste, magnificent in their desolation. Far in the distance beneath low-hanging cloud lies the city of Almería and the steely Mediterranean Sea beyond.
“It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”
— Barack Obama, Chicago, 4th November 2008.
It’s just three miles and a lifetime’s journey from the South Side of Chicago to Grant Park, and I can remember every step.
How marvellous it was that the US election race this year should find its long-awaited finish line at the same spot as the Chicago Marathon — one of many high points I’ve shared with this incredible country through a relationship that stretches right across my adult life.
I entered the United States late one August night in 1981. Seventeen hours out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, we drove across a bridge and into Maine. Next morning, six hours and a brief stop in Portland later, I stepped wearily off the bus in downtown Boston — completing my journey from England to New England, where the history of this great nation had started.
That visit took me down the east coast to New York and Washington, in an arc via Pittsburgh to Niagara, and then back into Canada for a return flight home.
My memories of America from that trip? Coin-fed TV sets in lonely Greyhound bus stations. The wind on Cape Cod. Looking across the Charles River on a long walk out to Cambridge.
The view from the Empire State Building. The sound of dusk on Broadway. The New Jersey Turnpike. The Smithsonian. The Capitol.
A quote carved into the Washington pavement —
‘One of these days this will be a very great city, if nothing happens to it’ (Henry Adams).
My love affair with America had begun.
Posted in 2008, A1 - the best of roads of stone, Chicago, divided by an ocean, environment, heroes, history, Houston, Iraq, Kenya, life and times, politics, united in a future
This poster called as I walked from the station, reminding me that it’s time to wrap up my series on Kenya.
My visit last summer left me with a whole lot to say about the country, about Africa, and our attitudes to the continent and her people. I sat down to write, and the project found life of its own. Today I’ll outline some highlights, final thoughts and reflections.
The sun is out again in London, after an unusually cool spring. It’s been a cold winter across much of Europe and North America, too. But the year is turning now, as it always does eventually.
Cooler weather will come and go. Floods, droughts, disasters, snowstorms and heatwaves, too. That is the nature of living on the Earth. You’ll see reporters referring unusual weather events to climate change, but that’s largely misleading, and it’s misinformed as well.
So let’s not get confused. That is only weather, and it’s not the same as climate. Reports like those just serve to confuse the public.
The urgently pressing fact is that climate change is real. And it’s happening.
Winter drags in February. The lengthening evenings seem to pack a scary sharpness in their chill, and there’s an unexpected bleakness in these brightening days which makes me yearn for spring.
But it’s not the weather really. It’s my lack of patience for this place, which palls now with every passing week.
The soulless office above the shopping mall entombs me on shivering days like these. Days when inertia sucks the lifeblood of enthusiasm out from in me. Hours spent waiting for the gloom to lift and fall. Days when I don’t feel like running, and I wonder how I ever did.
The crocuses in Epsom Park smile indulgently as I pass on my winter’s route towards the dry Chalk hills above the town. They remind me.
NOTE: May 2009 — For further updates on the oil price, see also:
The price of oil: 3 — energy economics and the financial crisis;
The price of oil: 4 – a rising road ahead.
It was a chilly evening in early February when the Managing Director called us all together. He paused a moment, glanced at the expectant faces all around him, and then he started.
Business is tough, he said, and we’re doing what we can. But finally, we’ve reached that moment when we’ve got to let some of you go.
A hundred of us stood there then, looking at each other, at the floor, and at the winter’s dusk outside.
There was silence. Some more explanation was required, and some more honesty was needed. And, to his credit, Mitch provided it. As ‘this company is going down the toilet’ talks go, it was pretty fairly done.
We’d had problems with one of our installations in the North Sea, he told us. We all knew that already. In the big money business of finding oil and gas and getting them to the beach, failing on either of those priorities was never good.
An asset team would miss its targets, and there’d be no bonuses or payrises for anyone ahead. Such is business, in any organisation. But this time, it was worse.
It’s the oil price, he said. February, 1999. Continue reading
So reads the street sign, and everything they say is true. The sky, the buildings, the cars, the winter weather – they all seem so much bigger here.
Downtown, early morning. A fading twilight was lifting above the Astrodome when I peered out through the curtains five minutes ago, and now it’s nearly daybreak.
The eastern horizon is promising cool and blue and cloudless – a perfect Texas dawn is calling. For now, Houston has a sleepy air, the metropolis still dappled and drowsy and awaiting the day.
If you want to know a city, just run through it streets, and look up and all around you. Breathe its atmosphere and history, and immerse your soul in the rush before your eyes.
Live a different life, for a few brief footsteps, and surrender your mind to the wanderings of your feet. Lose yourself.