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Back in the SF Bay Area for a few weeks

April 21, 2017 1 comment

I walked to the bus station through the pre dawn light, pack on my back, with enough time to stop off for newly baked morning rolls in my local 24 hour corner shop. The freshness of the early Glasgow air adding to the euphoria I felt just for being on the road again. Its been a hectic and demanding month. I’ve had to organise and run 2 events (anniversary for Rachel Corrie and I hosted a passover seder for 10 people) which I’m finding really stressful lately. And had lots of housing issues to do with building work and incompatibilities in how my flatmate and I deal with things and prefer our household to work. Some of that was resolved the night before I set off, and all the events are over for another year.

There’s a peace I feel when I’m travelling. Contentment. Relief. Awareness of surroundings and mindfulness. The physical movement and momentum is happy food for my brain. Tensions lift.

And the early morning air, the songs of the birds, scent of slightly damp ground, all full of freshness and openings and new energy. A whole new day beginning. Happiness also at my life that enables me to do this, to head off on a new journey. That I purposefully live somewhere enabling me to bracket trips with 20-30 mins of walking between home and the mainline bus or train stations. I can breathe in and feel Glasgow during the transitions between home and away.

Both the planes from Edinburgh to Heathrow, and then the transatlantic to SFO were very empty, explaining why I got such cheap tickets. When the people in front tried to strike up conversation with me after I helped them with food and then displaying skymap for them, I tried to be polite but I couldn’t totally hide my irritation at them interrupting my precious alone traveling zone out. They were intrigued by my life – a home/work system that allows regular traveling and polyamory – which reminded me of how much of a bubble I normally stay in where neither are so unusual!

Last trip to Berkeley, in February, I enjoyed being somewhere that felt so progressive and safe for that. Last Saturday racists, alt-right and Trump supporters exploited their growing numbers and confidence to descend on Berkeley precisely because it is “enemy territory” for them and violently claimed both the university and the downtown. Obviously I never thought Berkeley was some utopian, anarchist stronghold, but this successful invasion by the rightwing underscored how powerful they now are. I guess it felt more intense for me because of being here so recently and feeling like there was some glimmer of light in the darkness that is rapidly overrunning the world.

I am primarily in Berkeley to visit a honey, and to get some R&R, rather than focusing on making political connections or participating in activism. However my sweetie and I will be on tomorrow’s march for science, and I will be visiting local spaces and collectives, and hopefully doing a bit of volunteering in the background. I’ll probably blog more, both about being here, and to catch up on last year’s trips and events.

Categories: diary, politics, travel

Homecoming – Last day in SF bay area (JVP netanyahu demo, and /official/ new friend). Bus ticket drama. Glasgow returning – spontaneous outing to The Lost Boys at amusement park.

February 18, 2017 Leave a comment

JVP Netanyahu demo and Official New Friend

Wednesday. Chilled day with Y. He was working from home. I was lazing about and got snuggles during his breaks. Then I headed into SF for Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) demo protesting Trump’s meeting that day with Netanyahu and their shared values of racism, wall-building and hate-mongering. Was cool to be with other Jewish progressives, though a little disappointed there was only about 40-50 there. It was a 2 hour demo and I was only there for last bit so there might have been more attending in total as folks were coming and going. I liked the connection between zionism and to USA rhetoric and policies on migration and borders, which was expressed in chants and handmade placards.

After the demo a couple of Bay Area friends I had originally connected with from Gaza (from my trip in 2003) met me and I really enjoyed how easy and grounded in affection these relationships are. Partly I think it might be that usa (partic west coast?) culture is more emotionally demonstrative anyway, so i might just be experiencing that and feeling it as “ooo these people like me, its safe for me to open up to them too”. But regardless I’m starting to really value these other reasons for being in bay area besides Y, and this works well as both Y and I like spending time with other people too when we’re together.

I had this waffle/diner food craving, and as this was my last opportunity for it for a while, we headed to Mel’s. Mel’s is both fun, and cliched/OTT, but I’m a tourist and I kinda enjoy the OTT so I love sitting in a Happy Days set! We even used the booth side jukebox! Excitingly someone joined us who I’ve only before met with when I’ve been also meeting her partner who is an old friend of mine. We both agreed that meeting without him made us now Official Friends. She was also excited to be in SF itself, as she does the common Easy Bay resident thing of hardly ever coming over into the city.

Y joined us, and then a bit later New Official Friend, Y and I decided to go for Mexican food in the Mission – hey its my last night! I’m totes allowed 2 suppers! Then we went for a wander and ended up at the top of Dolores Park enjoying the view over the city before grabbing Indian deserts on our way to the last BART back to the East Bay. For I still needed to pack and then get up at 6am for my flight home!

Bus ticket drama

At SFO I was probably over excited by the TSA dog – so cute, though it looked pretty skinny. Luckily the excitement was not reciprocated so I got through security uneventfully, though the same was not true about getting from Edinburgh airport back to Glasgow…

So I’d managed to lose my purse containing my return bus ticket and debit card at Reykjavik airport on the way out. Pop quiz: a) I did the responsible thing and phoned lost property about it as soon as i realised, or b) I procrastinated making the scary phone call and then decided I’d just see them when I transited on my way back home only to find out that the lost property office was only open at 8:30am, was after my 4am-7am transit time? Ooops! Of course I had a chain of backup plans in case my purse wasn’t even in the airport:

1) pick up return bus ticket with bank card in iceland.
2) use debit card stored in chrome to buy bus ticket online and choose sms ticket option
3) use Y’s credit card to buy bus ticket online
4) convert $20 at edin airport (and take on chin the double commission whammy of both converting a small amount and an airport booth – I just need £11:60 for the bus ticket…)
5) once am in uk and time is more respectable (i landed 9am) start calling round friends to either buy me a bus ticket online / rescue me from airport
6) hitchhike – lots of Glasgow folks use Edinburgh airport and I was due to land at peak time (9am)

Ok, fine, so I couldn’t get my bus ticket or debit card… i just drop to option 2. After all I’ve used my card online so often I never even have to look at the CVC anymore. It turns out that my memory of that 3 digits is perfect unless its 5am and I’m on dodgy airport wifi with no way to just look at the back of the goddamned card! Fine, I’ll use Y’s credit card – he’d given me one that was about to expire anyway in case options 1 or 2 fell through. Except it turns out the citylink website doesn’t accept non uk billing addresses. Argh! More time passes and I’m like, bugger this, I need coffee[0] and then realised i could get citylink tickets on megabus website too. So off I go but now I’m struggling with the verified by visa password and Y is busy.

However the coffee was def working – some more googling and it turns out you can buy bus tickets at edinburgh airport’s tourist information booth! They’re bound to accept card payments, and Y’s given me his pin so i’m sorted! There are buses at 9:30 and 10:00 and I’m desperate to just get to my own bed by this time.

[09:00] Luckily our flight lands a bit early and I race through immigration and to the booth (in post coffee alertness at Reykjavik I’d pre-memorised the route from the online airport map)

[09:15] Possibly over sharing I tell the v friendly “welcome to scotland” person that i’ve just arrived back from travel abroad and so don’t have cash yet and so want to buy the bus ticket using my credit card and am hoping to make the 09:30 bus. She says she’s going to make sure she can give me the ticket before taking my money and then has to boot the computer an go through the complex online system. “I don’t think we have to waste time filling in your phone number and email address. I’ll just tick that you refused to give them to me”

[09:18] The printer is jammed and after several minutes she gives up trying to fix the feed and goes to another machine which thank the universe spits out the ticket.

[09:23] I put Y’s credit card into their card reader, but instead of asking for the pin, it says “payment accepted. signature required” and directs me to remove the card. So she prints the receipt and asks me to sign it. I squiggle “Praveen Kumar”[1] and hand it back.

[09:24] She flicks over the card (d’oh! of course she was going to do that! i’d forgotten that was even a thing. when was last time you signed for a card payment???) and the signature panel is blank… “Do you have any other ID with you?” Me, feigning calmness but running lateness “Oh no, I don’t have an other ID with me!”

Lets recap : 1) I’ve told her I’ve just landed off an international flight. 2) As far as she’s concerned she’s addressing a white female with an English accent. 3) The card is for an American bank with an Indian male name.

“Well I think you’ve been kept waiting long enough trying to get it printed. Turn right and then right again to get to the bus stop”

I LOVE BEING BACK IN SCOTLAND!!!! And I am very appreciative that I have bucketloads of white privilege which I am benefitting from – doubt this would have been so easy had Praveen Kumar been trying to use a card with a white chick’s name on :(

Friday – Spontaneous outing to The Lost Boys at amusement park

I arrived home at about 11am. Obviously first thing I did was put the kettle on. Ah tea, now things seem more reasonable. Ok, so I’ve had maybe 6 hours sleep since Wednesday, and I should probably change my clothes, but all I need to do today is stay awake til 8ish, go to the bank to get cash out across the counter, and get a few groceries in for the weekend. Then I’ll sleep like a baby and wake up some time tomorrow, go to the LGBTQ boxing club, and my timezone should be all fixed ready for 12 hour shift on Sunday. By 4:30pm I’ve done bank and shop chores and have cash and am planning a quiet evening and then sleeeeeeeep.

img_20170217_194454517.jpgAnd then, this being Glasgow, a friend invites me to a Glasgow Film Festival screening of The Lost Boys in a secret location, buses leaving from the GFT in 90 mins. So much for the early night plan! Accompanied by motorbikes revelling as they rev their engines to full blast we are transported to M&Ds amusement park. We bump into another friend and play on the rides opened up specially for the occasion, the park packed with excited adults in vampire/hunter dress-up squirting holy-water-pistols at each other on the big wheel and maximal audience participation through a favourite teenage movie. Much glee!

Walking home from the bus, much sleep deprived but very content with how lucky I am to come back to Glasgow, where being “cool” means showing your exuberance, participating to the max. Not sneering, but rather thrilling at and cheering on others’ dorkiness and throwing themselves into the spirit of whatever hijinks is going on.

 

 

[0] food and drink seems to feature a lot in today’s blog… To add more, as wow air doesn’t give any food on the flight I’d packed another really good picnic; hard boiled eggs, oranges, humus and veg wrap (didn’t taste good on the flight though – i know taste buds are supposed to be different on flights), smoked tofu and jerky. This time didn’t have the conveniently under 100mls water-tight containers i had last time, and the liquor store seemed confused about why i’d want a *small* bottle of alcohol (merkans and their super-sizing!) so decided to buy booze in duty-free as obvs you can carry that onto the plane. Except then I realised once aboard that i wasn’t sure if i’d be allowed to carry it onto my second flight if i took it out of the heat sealed duty free bag and opened it. so i relied on snoozing and copious pre downloaded star trek to get me through instead. I’d turned down a pal’s offer of a “medicated” jelly bean which given the TSA doggie (such cute eyes!) was lucky!

[1] Name changed to another Indian male name for privacy reasons.

That awkward moment you realise you’re in a Maoist cult meeting but don’t want to appear rude (Berkeley day 14)

February 15, 2017 2 comments

Once talking politics might have been considered not for polite company, but these days its foregrounded in almost every encounter, be it in a shared taxi, on public transit (an unknown fellow passenger commented, in a conversation about where to get beer, that he’d just bought a pack of Budweiser in support of “the ad”), the grocery store…  95% of interactions that last longer than 10 secs have at least some kind of explicit nod to the political context.

Keen always to meet Anarchists as I travel, I was especially eager to see what they were up to given the attacks and protests going on. Last year I’d done a bit more research and seen there were 2 anarchist bookshops in the Bay Area, but only visited the one in SF, having seen there was also one in the East Bay. So yesterday I looked up “anarchist bookstore” on google maps and not only did a result show up just over a mile away but they had a meeting on fascism a couple hours later! Score!

Arriving shortly before the meeting I saw bookcases filled with radical titles and was especially excited by sections for graphic novels and children/young adults books. Another blue haired person came up (its normal for us blue hairs to want to greet each other) and was happy to hear I was from Glasgow as she’s seen that we had Trump inauguration protests, though she seemed strangely unexcited when I said I had come because I’m an Anarchist and wanted to learn more of what people were doing here. I went back to browsing the kids books.

Another person approached me asking how I knew about the meeting. He seemed friendly, and we casually chatted about Scotland and politics. At some point though he got intense and started recommending a book that was on the main display just inside the front door promising “The New Communism”. Now its not unusual for me to encounter those defining as communists who have libertarian politics, so this wasn’t a red flag to me, unlike his explanation that “since Mao died we haven’t had socialism in the world”…. Woah, wait up a second! I politely, whilst also trying to back away slowly, said that I had some issues with Mao, but luckily just then we were called to sit down for the meeting and I assumed he was just some random lefty who was also interested in fascism.

newc-book-cover-largeIt was only once we were sat (in *rows* with the speakers at the front! yes i really am this dense!) that I looked above the bookshelves and noticed that the walls of the bookshop were *covered* in large posters featuring this one dude “Bob Avakian” with the distinctly un-libertarian sounding title of “Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party”!

But by this time the talk had started and it felt like it would be rude to just get up and leave. So I sat through half an hour of unsophisticated pontificating, slowly sinking in how I’d proudly informed these authoritarian leftists that I was an Anarchist expecting them to connect with me on that! Finally I pretended i’d just got a message on my phone and suddenly had to leave smiling as I legged it out the door. Later I looked up Bob Avakian and found out they’re a legit personality cult. Absolutely no idea why google maps thought they were an anarchist bookstore, unless its a conspiracy to redirect potential radicals into something so bizarro that they retreat to capitalism sharpish! Next time I’ll do my research before merrily waltzing into a Maoist den!

Categories: diary, politics, travel

Sleeping at Brussels-Midi (Bruxelles-Midi) Train Station #TravelLikeAGirl

August 12, 2015 1 comment

Had lots of “Don’t do it!” responses to my request for information about sleeping at Brussels-Midi during an overnight connection off the Eurostar, but only one person who said they’d done it, and they’d obviously survived to tell the tale!

There are daily cheap (59 euros!) trains bookable in advance (eg try https://loco2.com/ ) from London to Berlin. The catch? You arrive into Brussels at 22:38 and your onward train isn’t til 06:25!

IMG_20150812_051005777We went looking for free wifi/toilets and found both across the road at the Hotel Ibis, which has a surprisingly reasonably priced bar, and was open until 1am. We left before it was closed however in order to make sure we were in the station before the last train departed so we wouldn’t get locked out. We found a lot of people already camped out in the main waiting area, so nested in a corner nearby (safety in numbers!). I found some free newspapers to sit on in the paper recycling bin.

At about 2am a security guard came around and (quadlingually!) asked to see our tickets. There were two of us on one ticket, but we’d bumped into someone travelling to same event on the eurostar and so there were three of us – however he gave a very cursory glance at the one ticket and didn’t ask for the third person’s ticket before moving on. Over at the main seats I watched him examine a different person’s ticket for about 30 seconds. The difference? I don’t know about anything else but the latter was black and all in our party are white.

IMG_20150812_051235835I slept curled up around my bags, with passport etc under my clothes. I’m a very light sleeper and don’t move around much in my sleep so this was safe. The security guard was wandering around all night and there were a dozen fellow travellers in the waiting area.

The station reopens just after 4am for the first trains to the airport. And there was noise all night from cleaners, and then the usual train station tannoy announcements once the trains had started, so it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve had.

But it did feel as safe and (un)comfortable as the many nights I’ve spent at international airports. Although there were three of us on this occasion, I’d feel safe doing it alone as a single female due to the numbers of other passengers and that I’m a light sleeper. YMMV.

IMG_20150812_055830946There was also a charger point nearby, pedal powered! I only got about 2% into my phone after 4-5 mins of pedaling, but still a good idea and might be better if there were a few of you, or you were desperate, or you were a bit taller – was a bit awkward reaching the pedals, designed with Germans rather than stumpy Brits in mind!

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