Monolithos was four fisherman huts along the water,
a miniature villa closed for years, and our farmhouse
a hundred feet behind. Hot fields of barley, grapes,
and tomatoes stretching away three flat miles
to where the rest of the island used to be.
— Not Part of Literature: from Monolithos, by Jack Gilbert (1982)
A cold January in London is always the perfect time to head inside. Sunday finds us at the British Museum, gazing enthralled at a small statue which transports us to a different world entirely.
Inside the case, an acrobat is jumping over the horns of a charging bull — a feat of agility captured in Bronze Age craftsmanship more than three and a half thousand years ago.
The Minoans who made the statue lived around the eastern Mediterranean for well over a thousand years.
Settling from 2600 BC around Knossos, near modern Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, they built rich palaces which were destroyed and rebuilt several times after 1700 BC, before their sites were taken over by the Myceneans around 1420 BC.
* * * * *
It’s early morning and the sun is already hot across the blackness of the beach. To the south, the road snakes its way up the limestone cliff to Ancient Thera. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but the climb of Mesa Vouno will kill me long before I get there.
I head north along the shore, with the Aegean Sea on my right, and work my way slowly out of Kamari. The strip is quiet at this time of day, with just a few old folks up in search of breakfast. The rest of the resort is sleeping off last night.
The deserted boutique hotels and bars fall swiftly behind me, and soon I reach the end of town and the start of Greece.
June in Houston. It’s 99F outside as we wait an hour at immigration.
A glossy US arrival video is playing on a giant screen above our booth, but we have to wait an hour and offer all our fingerprints before we’re free to pass.
Welcome to America.
Obama’s America — but has it really changed?
The freeway towards the city looks just the same. A little less traffic perhaps.
Wide blue skies are yawning high above the endless sprawl beside the road. The downtown towers inch nearer across the final swoop of our 5,000 mile journey to reach The Loop.
In the hotel at last, I flop my bag and body down and switch on the TV. There’s a programme talking all about energy costs, and today’s phone-in prize is (quite remarkably) a free green audit of your home.
And it strikes me that I’ve never heard this stuff in Texas before.
All fresh and showered by sunset, we walk on Main Street to find a place to eat. It’s hotter than July this evening, but after ten hours in an aluminium tube we’re in no mood for air-conditioned civility. Some al fresco nachos, a cold beer and a simple plate of enchiladas are all we seek.
We find them at Cabo on Travis. A perfect terrace to catch the steamy breeze of sundown.
And then unexpectedly, outside the restaurant, we find surprise again. A parked Mini, with just the perfect bumper sticker. Actual Size.
It’s 6 am and raining. Mid-summer has somehow ended in the night, and a different kind of July stands waiting for me as I step outside.
The street is chill and almost empty. A fine wet shimmer is wrapped around the tramtracks as I cross them, and even now, in my first few strides, I can feel the morning washing clean the heavy dreams of last night’s dinner.
I turn my collar to the cool and damp, and kick my heels slowly east along the lakeshore.
The first minutes of a run like this are always hardest. A body short on sleep but not so short on years is slower than it should be to get going.
My feet are heavy, and my stomach feels heavier still, with a not so faint taste of Swiss Gamay red lurking somewhere down inside.
I raise my eyes and look around. Across the grey lake, the city lies serene and timeless. Geneva is exactly as I remember her. Unchanged, if just a little wetter.
High flying, adored
What happens now —
Where do you go from here?
On top of the world
The view is not exactly clear
Evita — Rice & Lloyd-Webber (1976)
I spent much of the summer visiting financial institutions in the City of London.
The fallout from last autumn’s global economic meltdown is still drifting through our streets. The world didn’t end last October, but it felt a close call at times.
For the moment, it seems as if the worst is behind us. The dust is clearing slowly, and yet in the City uncertainty still clouds a faintly growing optimism. For many in the Square Mile, waiting out the storm a while remains the wisest game of all.
When recovery comes, what will it look like? Or is it here already, lurking in the lunchtime swagger of those traders who survived the carnage, and the evening calm of bankers working now for different masters?
Looking back, the causes of this crisis are clear to see. It was all about the price of risk.
In 2007, the City thought it had abolished risk, or at least knew how to measure it.
Picture a beautiful country of fertile green plains and lush, forested mountains.
A country washed by warm tropical seas, blessed with the finest beaches in the world.
A nation with a proud history extending across three millennia and more. A land coveted by great empires and fought over for centuries — where the fate of our planet was decided, many times more than once.
Think of a country rich in art and architecture, with nine World Heritage Sites for culture and nature.
Wander streets at the cradle of music and dance, listening to rhythms echoing all around the world.
Dream of stunning cities, beautiful towns and remote villages, set across a landscape unblighted by shanty towns or ghettoes. A land where men, women and children of all different colours live side by side, and where racism is confined to the past.
Envisage a country with excellent health care which is free and accessible to all. A society where life expectancy rates equal those in the United States, and where infant mortality rates are significantly lower.
Dragons used to roam in St Leonard’s Forest, or so the local legend goes. Today it’s only runners, and me amongst them, burning with limbs afire in the 25th running of the Horsham 10 km.
We’re on my regular lunchtime route, or at least the tricky part of it, where the Lower Cretaceous clays of the lush Arun Valley rise eastwards towards the sandstone plateau of the forest.
We gather on Horsham Rugby Club’s playing fields in bright spring sunshine, and when the siren goes we head off dutifully around the touchline of the first team pitch.
The streak ends today.
So read a banner beside the fairway at Valhalla yesterday as the final day singles of the 2008 Ryder Cup were about to begin.
Those words showed how much the Americans wanted to win it this time. And win it they did, as Paul Azinger and his players delivered the first USA victory since Brookline in 1999. The Kentucky twilight fell to wild scenes of jubilation and joy.
This was a true team achievement. Lining up as underdogs, without the best player in the world beside them, the Americans played wonderfully, and they putted even better.