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So, I'm in London about halfway through this book tour thing. Today I did some improv stuff for Wordia.com. That went fine. As did the interview with 13 year-old Hugh yesterday. And the Burgers with Booksellers thing last night.

But today I had to give an actual speech. A dozen people in a small room. No podium. Nothing to separate me from those piercing, judgmental, critical eyes. The eyes! The . . . eyes!

Okay, actually there were no eyes. It was a dozen eyeless people. And that was creepy, quite frankly.

Anyway, I give this speech. And there's a kind of appalled silence. Questions anyone? Yes, I have a question: what the hell is the matter with you? What in God's name does Ulysses S. Grant have to do with your book?

Here's what was cool tonight. I walked from my hotel at London Bridge all the way to Selfridge's department store on Vegemite Street. (That's right: I am sticking with the Vegemite.) A long walk. Maybe an hour or so. Over the bridge, through the City of London with banker types spilling out of pubs, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Along the river. Run-down old ships anchored along the way, turned into banquet halls. A drunk, skinny punk and his mate hoot and challenge, looking for trouble. I'm wearing a topcoat. Hands come out of pockets, we exchange glares, they decide that I may be a little larger than they'd like.

I walked through Trafalgar, said "Dude!" to Nelson way the hell up on his column. Through Picadilly Circus. (Turns out it's not actually a circus. Huh. Not so much as an elephant.) Think Times Square minus 90% of the neon. The Brits still can't touch us for jaw-dropping over-the-top excess. Seriously: their bankers are still stealing millions, apparently unaware that we've all moved on to stealing billions.

Up Regent Street which is unfortunately all the same damned stores we have in the States. But there were all these tiny side streets I didn't have time to wander down. A trio played what was probably Mozart, the cello drowned out by passing cop cars.

At each street I pause, check the "Look Left," or "Look Right" signs painted on the street. It's bad enough these people insist on driving on the wrong side of the road, but every other street is one-way so there's no way to make any sense of it.

I finally reached Selfridge's which is a world-class department store. Dutifully bought crap for my kids. Spent a small fortune on four cigars from a certain Caribbean nation which shall remain nameless because we don't want to poke US customes in the eye, now do we?

Cab back to London Bridge. London cabs are flat out the best in the world. No! Don't bother to argue. They find their way around a city that was, as we know from history, laid out not by an architect but by drunken sailors on leave from Her Majesty's Navy. What they would do is tie a string to a sailor before he was given his freedom and a guinea (no, not an Italian, Jesus, keep up,) and told to go wherever he wanted. The sailor promptly took a large quantity of rum on board, set off in pursuit of hookers and wherever he went, that became a London street.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's true. I checked Wikipedia.

Picked up a sandwich and cheese at Marks and Spencer in the train station. Insipid bottled bitters. Good cheese. Peaches. A puzzling sandwich.

I'm back in my room, sated, scanning British TV. Sweet lord: they'll put a gardening show on in prime time! People are planting flowers at 9:00 pm. Seriously? We're mulching in prime time? American TV executives must come over here and think they're anthroppologists studying aboriginies. Do these people know nothing of The Demo?

Yesterday I was watching Robin Hood, and Friar Tuck was a black dude. No explanation. None of the Merry Men saying, "Jesus, it's the 12th freaking century, it's freaking England, none of us has ever traveled further than Ye Olde Swine Faire over in Twaddle, and yet, here's a black dude and we don't even notice!"

English Guys: as the more experienced member of the Special Relationship when it comes to racial balance in TV, allow me to gently suggest: it's okay to mention that a black guy might stand out in Sherwood Forest. That's not racially insensitive. You know, as it turns out, black people know they didn't play much of a part in fighting the Sherrif of Nottingham. I'm sure they would have been happy to help out, but your typical Masai was not terribly well-informed on the whole John vs. Richard the Lion Heart thing.

Anyway, Moll Flanders is on now, and it's an American movie with a bunch of American actors pretending to be English. And Morgan Freeman. So much for laughing at British racial idiocy. But on the other hand you can't argue with Morgan Freeman. There's never a bad time to have Morgan Freeman around. He could be here, right now, narrating and I'd be cool with that.

Morgan Freeman: "Michael takes another swig from the bottle of Bowmore 12 year." How great would your life be if Morgan Freeman was doing the voice over?

The point is -- and you thought I had no point, hah! -- is that London is like the woman you deliberately don't get to know because you're happily married. (WTF? Seriously? That's your analogy?) I think I could totally fall for this city. And I can't. Kids, schools, sunshine . . . all that is great in California.

But I almost have to avert my gaze, not look at London too much, not think about it too much. Because it may be the greatest city on earth. It seduces without trying. And I can't live here.


  1. Blogger Ruth Anne Adams Says:

    St. Benedict the Moor is a famous black friar. St. Martin de Porres, also, but he never left Peru.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Black friar? We did it first... Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), starring Kevin Costner and... Morgan Freeman!

  3. Anonymous Anonymous Says: