Friday, November 25, 2011

Occupy Thanksgiving

This year's remarks for our London Thanksgiving celebration:

I want to welcome all of you to the London encampment of Occupy Thanksgiving. – a movement dedicated to changing the public’s discourse about holiday inequality.

So I ask you, should 1% of the world’s population keep this holiday to themselves with their pilgrims and Indians and pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. Hell no! For twenty years we have been out fighting the undue influence of America, and the banks, on Thanksgiving. We just didn’t know then that a small turkey dinner in Frankfurt would become what it is today. – an encampment and the center of a movement that will change the world. And I have a message for Boris Johnson and the Bishop of London. This house is private property and we’re not going anywhere.

Many of you, especially our friends from Germany, were present when we set out our manifesto– Thanksgiving is not just for Americans. Thanksgiving inequality will no longer be tolerated. It is a basic human right that should be available to all.  And since the politicians refuse to take on this task, my friends, the job has been left to us.

Now over the years, we have worked hard to grow our movement, as you can see, but despite our best and honest efforts, we can not keep up with those greedy, corrupt, fat cat Americans back in America racing ahead with their football games and parades and day off. Now I ask you, who couldn’t produce a lousy turkey dinner if the whole country was given the day off to do it. We are the 99% who had to go to school today. We are the 99% who had to go to work today. And, honest, hardworking holiday makers that we are - we must go to school and work tomorrow. Yes, it is true. We are the Thanksgiving 99%.

And our efforts have not gone unnoticed. I have here emails from leaders around the world: Gorbachev has compared us to perestroika, the Peoples Republic of China’s State News Agency said the thanksgiving protests exposed fundamental problems with the US economic and political systems. The Canadian Prime Minister expressed solidarity noting that Canada has its own Thanksgiving that is fair, progressive and favors the vulnerable.

Speaking of which, we know it took courage to come here tonight. From all over the world, you had to endure Heathrow, the M25 and the District Line. You had to schlep oysters and chairs and pies. You have to converse and eat in battle like conditions. Health and Safety laws have already been breached and more will be breached before the night is over.

But someday, when the history books have been wriiten and people from every corner of the globe and walk of life take time to share their bountiful tables with others, when children ask their parents, “Is it true?  In the olden days that only 1% of the world’s population celebrated Thanksgiving?” and those children will be told stories of you – the original occupiers - who understood that to make everyone’s life better, we need a global day of thanks where the virtues of togetherness, cooperation and community are embraced by all. And so now I ask everyone to raise a glass and drink to us, Occupy Thanksgiving, and the movement that changed the world. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Rome Revisited

I tell my friends all the time, “You don’t need to send me a masterpiece, if you have been somewhere great and have some useful info for like minded travelers, just send me the stuff in a list, or an outline. No Crowds isn't about prose, it’s about free spirited experiences. If you are short on time, just send me the stuff, in any form you like."

Today, I am going to follow my own advice because distracted as I am by home renovations, it would be a shame if I did not report on a trip to Rome last September which proved, once again, that it is possible to get off the beaten trail – even in one of the world’s most visited, arguably ove- visited cities.

June 2008 was our last trip to Rome. Not much has changed except that the city is even more crowded. Here’s what hasn’t changed:

1)   The Hotel Locarno off the Piazza Popolo is still timeless and still our favorite
2)   Frescatteria – a restaurant on via del Croce, two blocks in from the Corso still has no credit cards, no phone and no coffee but continues to serve up good food at a great price in one of the most touristy parts of town.
3)   The Trattoria da Settimio all' Arancio (via dell Arancio 50 - Tel: 06 68 76 119) still offers a bistecca florentina so obscene that they have to hang a side extension off your table to fit it all in and if that does not appeal, everything there is good.

And  what’s more

1)   The Carravagios in S. Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi still offer a thrill without waiting in line or paying a fee
2)   The murals on the ceiling of St Ignacio provide a good proxy for the Sistine Chapel with none of the craziness of the Vatican.
3)   The Church of St Maria in Tastevere with its dazzling  Byzantine mosaics has loads of wow factor and no crowds

But here are some of the other places where we had a fabulous time with no crowds

1)     The Keats-Shelley House on the Spanish Steps should be crowded, but it isn’t. While  pandemonium reigns outside, you can enjoy the house and wonderful collections in relative peace and quiet. The most poignant bit is to stand in the tiny bedroom over looking the Steps where Keats spent his last days in a vain attempt to fight off consumption. Whether you are a  fan of the romantic poets or not, the house is magic.
2)   Villa Farnesina – The frescoes, by Rafael and others will knock your socks off and when we visited on a Thursday morning, no one was there
3)   The National Etruscan Museum – Villa Giulia – a fabulous building and collection where we spent a perfect afternoon all by ourselves
4)   A stroll down Via Margutta, a delightful street made famous by artists who can no longer afford to live there. Check out the apartment where Gregory Peck lived in Roman Holiday - no 51 (5) - pictured above.

And there you have it, some very rough ideas on how to have fun in a crowded place. So go on and send me yours – in any form you like.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Matjiesfontein – You Must Remember This

A South African road trip delivers an unexpected 'Casablanca' moment for No Crowds reporters Gary and Lorraine

Most tourists who have been to Cape Town know the well-trodden  Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, with its share of beautiful sea vistas, stunning mountains…and the attendant crowds.  But the No Crowds aficionado will want to sample a parallel, inland route, known locally as “the 62” after the main highway it follows.  The road winds through the Klein Karoo, a vast scrubland with the beauty and desolation of the badlands of the American west.  It’s only the elands, impala and occasional complaining wildebeest that remind you that you are somewhere on the other side of the world by latitude as well as longitude.

Some 250 km along the route from Cape Town you will find Matjiesfontein (pronounced Mikeys-fontayn), a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it whistle stop, population 300.  The town is literally in the middle of nowhere, with nary a settlement within 50 km either way.  Started in 1884 as a rather unlikely spa by Jimmy Logan, a young Scot who came to work on the railroad, it housed a garrison of British soldiers for a time, but is today a perfectly preserved (actually rebuilt) Victorian town. Every building up and down the main (and more or less only) street is a perfectly restored period piece.  The lovely Lord Milner Hotel with its dark wood, brass fittings and old portraits will convince you that you stepped out of a time machine 100 years ago.  The impression will be reinforced as you walk into the back garden, with its bowling lawn, lily pond and (slightly anachronistic) massage tables under a tree filled with calming crystal amulets and weaverbird nests.  A classic London Routemaster bus doesn’t quite fit the fin du si├Ęcle charm, but is available to transport people from one end of town to the other (walking time:  5 minutes).

The real treasure of Matjiesfontein, however, is a guy named John, who, like his father before him, has worked all his life in the town.  A self-described “tour guide, bartender, sweeper and musician”, John led us through Jimmy Logan’s carefully preserved suite at the Lord Milner and through the gardens over to the Laird’s Arms, which can only be described as a wild west saloon.  No sooner had the barkeep pulled our Castle Lagers than John sat down at the player piano, switched it to manual, and jammed his way through Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and any number of blues classics.  Like Sam in “Casablanca”, he’s the real deal, and as much a fixture as the plate glass mirrors behind the bar.  Next time we pass by Matjiesfontein, we’ll ask him if he can play that song the way Sam did, at the other end of this vast continent.  Because in Matjiesfontein, I’m not at all sure that time goes by.