Tuesday, 12 June 2018

And finally. .

This is the front lawn of our motel in Havelock. There are two US military facilities in this town and just up the road is a newer and snazzier fighter jet also presented as a public artwork. You see a lot of this. In 2009 we stayed in a tiny town motel in Utah that was opposite a recreation ground with a 20 foot missile standing on a plinth. Bit like North Korea.

There's no escaping just how huge a domestic deal the US military is. Expressions of support are evident everywhere. On T-shirts, baseball caps, bumper stickers, billboards, radio and TV ads and in lots of named memorial highways.

Since the advent of Trump's caricature presidency, coverage of the US has become all about him which inevitably ends up negatively caricaturing the whole nation and its people as well. This a shame because the people aren't the president. I like Americans. I love the fact that I get a chorus of good mornings and big smiles when I walk into a diner for breakfast in the morning feeling like shit after a shit night's sleep. That huge shot of positive has rescued me several times on this trip and I really appreciate it. 

It is inevitable that I am comparing how I am now to the person I was on the last road trip in 2009. It has not been a comfortable reflection on time and getting older but a realisation (for both of us) of the impact of events over the past 5 years on our mental health and on our relationship. Just to recap that includes the suicide of two, close family members, a reactive relocation to a tiny village after more than three decades of a life and career in international cities and finally, caring for my mother until her death 3 months ago. That's quite a lot of stuff and there's actually more in the backstories..... but that'll do for now!

Anyway, the upshot is a cycle of mutually reinforcing anxiety that at times, makes us each feel we are constantly under attack from the other. It's exhausting and can turn even the simplest decisions into a minefield. The most crushing part is that being aware of it doesn't actually help that much. Still we have managed to get to the final day of the trip without killing each other and the serendipity of finding a vacant room in Smithfield, Virginia with a balcony and this view has been pretty amazing. Especially sitting here last night watching the lightning show that preceded a tropical southern downpour.

The original plan for this trip was to go North to the lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks in upstate New York.  Despite the occasionally unbearable heat, humidity and mosquitoes,  I am very happy that we had a last minute shift and decided to come South. That laid back, positive and hospitable southern vibe has been very calmimg when the tension has been as high as the humidity. Saturday was particularly good. We ended up in the 'original Washington' - a North Carolina coastal town - on their festival night.  This meant we spent the evening in a waterfront park listening to a great band called the Embers and watching what seemed like the entire town, country line-dancing to pretty much anything the band played. This was a lot of fun and hugely enjoyable to unexpectedly be part of such a local experience.

However, before I get too carried away on the US feelgood factor that I appreciate so much, I have to acknowledge that it can go a little over the top. Not from the generosity and openess of the people but certainly from motel publicity executives. Having to look at this every time I sat on the toilet in the Hampton Inn, knowing there was a fighter jet parked on the front lawn, did make me consider random acts of violence....

Friday, 8 June 2018

Nowhere.. middle of..

It's not really the middle of nowhere but this tiny strip of land off the North Carolina coast has the Atlantic pretty much on both sides. A lot of it is national wildlife reserve and there are coastal forests in the mix as well. Here's a slightly blurry map.

We spent 3 nights in Avon at a classic, old motel that looked a bit shabby on the outside but was clean, comfortable and pretty much right on the beach. Swimming in the Atlantic can be quite challenging. People surf here so the waves can be pretty fierce but it's a really exhilarating way to start the day and the only thing I would ever consider doing before coffee. 

Great walk around Pea Island Wildlife Reserve lake. Not much there ....

... apart from birds, turtles and otters.

We left Avon and headed down the strip then took 2 seperate ferries back onto the mainland. The ferry rides were great. Three hours looking at this ...

... and an occasional pelican.

Since then it's been pretty much this.....


Lots of these...

And the pretty awesome experience of watching the comings and goings of an osprey's nest in my new favourite place which is the Croatan National Forest.

It all sure beats this..

Monday, 4 June 2018

Tappahannock, Suffolk and Dismal Elizabeth

Drove out of Washington to Tappahannock via lunch and a bookshop in Fredericksburg. Then via a vinyl store to Suffolk where we got an unusually good view for a roadside motel.

Up and out to the Great Dismal Swamp for a hike which was supposed to be 4 miles to the huge mid-swamp Drummond Lake and then 4 miles back. But.... we only managed 2.5 miles and had to turn around. The heat and humidity were just too much. Our previous experience of this southern climate was Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas in July 2002. This was much tougher than that even tho North Carolina is further north and we are only just into June so it's a bit crazy. However...... the walk we did manage was pretty amazing.

The air was buzzing with swampy bird and insect sounds and there were basking turtles, jumping frogs, zebra swallowtails and other really big butterflies all around.

So the Great Dismal Swamp was anything but dismal ... unlike that night's motel in Elizabeth City which was totally shit. Still, it's never dull with bikers next door, a posse of drunks stumbling back at around 1.00am and then a massive girl-boy fight kicking off in the car park at  3.30am.  Thank god for earplugs.

Here's a couple of typical US town pics taken near the motel. It wasn't all dismal - the IHOP restaurant breakfast was awesome.

Like road trips we've done before, we're avoiding big highways so you get to see backroads, small towns and interesting garden design.

In the rural areas of North Carolina you see mile upon mile of crop fields framed by swamp-edge forests and isolated farmhouses under vast skies.

You rarely see any people but you see a lot of buzzards!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

On the road again...

We have the rental car. We have the US roadmap. We have almost 3 weeks and are on the road again. This is our first proper holiday since June 2013. We can hardly believe it. I can also hardly believe I'm blogging about it but what the hell. Blogging about the 2 month trip from NYC to San Francisco back in 2009 was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done.

We kicked off in Washington DC but that involved a bit of work so holiday really started yesterday.  DC was interesting though. Instead of staying in a downtown hotel we had a great airbnb apartment in a district called Bloomingdale. You get such a different impression of a city when you stay in a residential area. A friend raised his eyebrows when we said where we were staying. His impression was that the neighbourhood wasn't exactly salubrious. If that was the case then things have changed. There are signs of gentrification which makes it really interesting because it means that the atmosphere can change massively in a few blocks. But a lot of the houses look like they were always mighty fine with beautiful gardens and porches and balconies.

As always the most interesting street art and street life are in the parts that have longstanding communities and there is a strong sense of things having developed with them rather than forcing the kind of displacement that has happened so much in London. The Shaw-Howard university area is buzzing with confidence and life. Have to say I winced at housing development slogan 'A Life Supreme' tho.

Downtown I spent a day at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The garden is wonderful - even the trees seemed sculptural - and the range of exhibitions as well as some of the permanent collections  were excellent.

I enjoyed Barbara Kruger's, Belief + Doubt room but The Message: New Media Works featuring  film and video by Camille Henrot, C.T. Jasper, Joanna Malinowska, Frances Stark, Hito Steyerl, and Arthur Jafa was brilliant. Diverse, engaging and at times profoundly moving. Can't remember the last time I came out of an art museum so totally buzzing. Mind you... I don't get out much these days.

Next stop the Great Dismal Swamp. Hope it lives up to its name.