Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Travelogue 658 – October 28
The Second Half
Part Three

Baby usually wakes late. She has had a feeding time very early, and then she sleeps again. Once she wakes, she is in a good mood. It’s her best time of day. She lies in bed, and she smiles sweetly. We make her laugh. Today I have to listen to her laugh over the phone.

This morning, she is far away. She is back where the days are constricting, where winter is coming. Here the daylight is still strong. It comes on at nearly the same time as it always does. The birds have begun with song. The priests and the imams have joined in with their song. I was blessed with water, and I have had the privilege of a hot shower.

By the time Baby wakes, and by the time her mommy is tickling her and kissing her, I’ve already been up and busy. I’ve closed the gate to my old house just as the guy across the dirt road does. His house is set only a meter or less behind the crooked and battered fence of corrugated iron. He wears the same shiny grey suit today as he will tomorrow. He carries in one hand the worn, black briefcase. In his other hand is the phone. He speaks into it with a grave urgency. ‘Where are you?’ he asks in Amharic. It’s 7am.

Addis is a city of business. The buildings keep rising all over town, rising among sea of neighbourhoods like ours, among the mud and tin and stone villages that make up the aggregate city. I’ve walked up the neighbourhood hill to the asphalt road, from village to city, where I am to meet Shimeles, my driver. A couple of young men up there are cautioning everyone, there are electrical cables down. They lie across the sidewalk and across half the road. A speeding taxi van screeches to a halt in front of the cable, which is only visible at the last minute.

Last night I read about Europe, about post-war West Germany. Le Carré has created the story about an Embassy man gone missing. The story is a pretext for Le Carré to explore a bit of obscure history, the history of post-war Germany. It’s a fascinating time, but one that has gone dark. We prefer the history of the war to the history of the reconstruction. Reconstruction doesn’t have the adrenalin appeal. It’s hard and steady work during times of deprivation. There are nameless, hungry mobs of displaced persons, and refugees are unpopular these days. They gather at the borders and they selfishly ask for jobs. Reconstruction is a time for quiet civil servants who problem-solve, and we hate those sorts, too.

We can say that the saving grace of the period is the Cold War, at least in terms of entertainment value. It’s a time of spies, people who work in the shadows to keep things stable. There’s something psychologically appealing about the concept of the spy. The tightly bound energy of the Cold War seems best expressed by that gritty image: the person who works in the shadows. Little matter that most spies spent their careers pushing paper.

I’m only halfway through the book, and enjoying it more than I’m likely to later. The mystery is at its most tantalizing. There is no urgency to move the plot along. There is room for speculation and for exploration.

The downed electrical cables have fallen just where I usually meet Shimeles. I circle round the danger, and walk down the hill. I walk a while, passing the neighbourhood shops, the sidewalk cafes, the meat shop, the tiny hair salon. There is a steady train of people on their way down the hill with me. Every morning this is the course they walk. It occurs to Shimeles isn’t coming. I start watching for other taxi drivers.

He doesn’t speak much English, but he’s eager to talk. He wants to know where I’m from. He wants to know what I’m doing here. I answer, and he needs a few minutes to formulate his next question. He’s enjoying it. We speed along the roads toward the busy center of Addis, where on every side rise bare concrete supports overhead. It’s a city experiencing new youth.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Travelogue 657 – October 27
The Second Half
Part Two

I’m getting used to seeing only the first halves of movies. After that, the distractions at home are too much. I can catch bits and pieces of second halves. I manage to get to know the characters, understand the set-up and the premise for the plot, the conflict and where things must go. And then I have to piece together the rest from fragments. Or I leave it unresolved.

The conclusions generated in Hollywood are rarely satisfying, anyway. Sometimes I think the movie industry is in the business of sabotaging good ideas. One sees a genius in the parts and a failure in the sum. I imagine it’s the amount of money involved in making a major film. It discourages risk-taking. The writer takes risks, on his or her own, before any major investment has been made. Then the studio takes charge. First halves show the original innovation. The second halves show the estimation of the market.

We’re watching ‘The Tailor of Panama’. The plot has opened up into the middle game. The tailor has told fabulous stories to the ruthless intelligence agent. The agent has parlayed them into riches. There will be hell to pay. First to pay will be the tailor’s friends and family.

Baby is inconsolable. She stands in my arms and she cries. She looks in my eyes in distress, with such trust in me, as though I could make everything all right. And I would, at that moment, fix the world if I could. I tell her she just wants to sleep. The tailor will be fine.

It’s a story about story-tellers and the trouble they cause. Stories can be blunt instruments when wielded by the literal-minded. The tailor makes up stories, because that’s what he does, and Pierce Brosnan sells them to the highest bidders. The stories are wound tightly around their purpose. Before they can unravel, the rogue agent escapes with the money.

I hold Baby just under her arms. Her legs are strong enough to stand, her feet planted on my legs. She is making a pouting face and looking at me. It will be all right, sweetheart. You’re going to sleep soon. We’ll put you in the crib. While you’re sleeping, you’ll grow some more. One day you’ll stand on your own. You’re going to walk. The story gets better and better.

And now I’m waking in Addis Ababa. I’m awake at four. That seems my default time for waking when I travel. The city is silent, except for the waves of barking from the dogs, moving across the neighbourhoods, moving toward the mountains.

I’m listening for the birds. They are just getting started. I’ve been here so many times. I first slept in this tiny room in Addis six years ago. I awoke, and I listened for the morning birds. It’s always been a sign of hope.

Today I’m hoping for water, and I’m building resolve to go and check. It’s usually my best chance at a shower, before the sun has risen. I’ll listen a few more minutes. The first human sound is usually the calls to prayer, Muslim and then Christian, voices amplified to rise above the valleys of the city.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Travelogue 656 – October 26
The Second Half
Part One

I wake from a deep sleep with the impression that I’ve been sleeping on a train. I don’t know where I am. It comes back slowly. I’m in my house in Addis Ababa. The night is dark; I see outlines among my small bedroom space, the edges of the bed, the cabinet, and the door. I lie back again. I listen to the dogs barking in the distance.

I’ve been in Addis only one day. It’s been one day overshadowed by fatigue. I didn’t sleep at all on the overnight slight. The sun, once it was out, was hot. I sat in a hotel courtyard much of the afternoon, doing my best to concentrate on a set of documents I have to read through. I’m not doing very well with them.

I miss Baby terribly. When I think of her, I realize I suffer from a real poverty of imagination. I cannot get the measure of her, what she is, so suddenly, in my life. What she is, in sum or at length, even as she grows so quickly, escapes me, and therefore it has escaped me what it is to be human. Something terribly fleeting.

I’m reading. Before sleep I’m reading Le Carré. I like his early stuff, the suffocating accounts of human folly, his shrewd eye for detail. This one is set in Bonn, the old capital of West Germany, fog-bound and small, now a center of international intrigue. Old Germany and new are circling each other here. It’s a time of student rebellions, and a time of reaction against the West. A staff person from the British Embassy has disappeared.

Le Carré is a good story-teller. A few of his stories have made it into a film. One is on the TV in Holland one night before I leave for Addis. We have a habit in our house, surviving from times before Baby, of watching the 8:30 movie before bed. It’s an empty ritual now. The TV is on, but Baby requires attention. There is something in her that fights sleep. I find that intriguing, having reached an age myself when I hunger for sleep almost always, some days from the time I wake.

Baby is a light sleeper. She lies on the sofa next to Mommy, and she holds her blue ball with both hands. She tries to bite the ball. She tries to stuff it into her mouth, but it’s almost as big as her head. It’s a hollow ball, made of a kind of web of durable plastic so she can hang on to it. She’s frustrated she can’t bite her toy. She starts up with a low-grade whine. She is sleepy.

The film is ‘The Tailor of Panama’. Geoffrey Rush plays the tailor, a caring and loyal old man who happens to be a compulsive fraud. It’s a fortunate compulsion for a tailor. He’s entertaining, and he’s gracious. He has created a comforting back-story, as a London tailor trained on Savile Row. In truth he learned his trade in prison. But the fiction works for everyone, and his suits are the best in the city.

The story opens, characters and premise are introduced. Conflict is introduced, and with that the arc of the plot. In a two-hour movie, there is only time to open up all the possibilities, hold the tension for the duration of a few scenes, and then quickly spin toward resolution.

The conflict comes quickly, with the arrival of Pierce Brosnan, playing the new British intelligence agent in town, looking for dirt. He wants some juicy intelligence, and he wants it fast. He’s a rogue, assigned to Panama as a kind of demotion after scandal. He needs something good. Who better a source of dirt than the tailor to the rich and powerful? He applies pressure. The tailor, always eager to please, begins telling stories.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Travelogue 655 – October 14
The Glow
Part Three

So poor old Gerard Philips cuts no dashing figure, but his idea is the foundation of a corporate empire, and the organising principle for the story of a city.

In 1891, this Gerard Philips set up a factory for light bulbs in Eindhoven, financed by his father, Frederik, who was a banker. When eventually they brought in Gerard’s bright young brother, Anton, the company prospered, became Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken, and expanded into many other electrical products.

By mid-century, Philips was an innovator, having pioneered electric razors, radios in the 20s, and later television, audio tape and CDs. It was led by Philips family until 1971.

The Philips family was very loyal to the town that gave them their start. The company did more than provide jobs. They built and they donated.

In 1913, Gerard and his brother Anton founded the Philips Sport Vereniging, PSV, the football club that would become a force in Dutch football, and even, during select periods, European football. I ask the taxi driver about Memphis. That’s the name of a PSV star who became famous during the World Cup with a few key strikes. He is currently on loan to Manchester United, and I’ve watched him in a few games playing well in tandem with Rooney. The taxi man says Memphis has let his fame go to his head. He tells a story of Memphis balling up a parking ticket and throwing it on the ground. He shakes his head, and I’m thinking that among American athletes this looks like good citizenship.

Yes, suddenly there’s Anton. Gerard did have a younger brother. And Anton may be the reason Gerard gets so little press. The fact is, Philips under Gerard’s leadership was a failing enterprise. A decade after the company’s founding, Anton is invited in, and things start looking up. Gerard is good for one idea, or rather for the one critical task that made all subsequent history possible, convincing Daddy that investment in light is a smart move. Sadly, Daddy’s gone by the time Anton starts making it a thriving business, but I’m sure he didn’t regret the indulgence. (Is it important, or just weird, that Daddy’s first cousin is none other than Karl Marx?)

Anton’s son, Frits becomes something of a folk hero. When his elders fled to America ahead of Hitler’s advance, Meneer Frits stayed behind to run the factory. He was held in a concentration camp during 1943 because of a work shut-down in the factory. He protected the lives of 382 Jews who worked in the factory.

Frits became president of the company in time, and became Meneer Frits to the town. They loved him. He didn’t hold himself aloof. He mixed with his factory workers, attended football games regularly, sitting with the crowd rather than in the business lounge. Though he stepped down from leadership of the company in 1971, he survived to see his hundredth birthday celebrated by the whole city.

On the way to our hotel, we pass the Evoluon. Built in 1966 according to a sketch by Meneer Frits on a cocktail napkin, it looks like a landed UFO. It was meant to be an educational center for science and technology, and for a while it was. Now it functions as a conference center. They’ve embraced the weird place, taking it as symbol of their brainy city.

Menna has taken a liking to this town. It’s smaller, seems friendlier than Rotterdam. She’s taken a liking to the Market Square in central Eindhoven, host to a tall bronze statue of Meneer Frits. It’s a likeable square, combining elements of the historical with the urgency of modern commercialism. This weekend it’s the scene of considerable drinking, a line of bars there filling all their outdoor tables with runners and family and friends. There were already quite a few full marathoners celebrating during the half marathon. The course passed through the square during the last two kilometers, and it narrowed to a tight channel delineated by ad hoc barriers holding back the crowds of weekender fans, surging forward in tottering, bellowing support while we, the suffering few, elbowed each other for space in fevered and impatient anticipation of the finish line.

I had to remind myself that this was the race of the many false finishes. I’m judging my progress solely by my watch. Every quarter kilometre or so, there is another balloon arch, and a few optimistic souls surge forward, only to pull to the side in winded disappointment when the colourful display offers no finish. I make it to the finish, completely spent. That’s a good feeling, only because it means I did my best.

A few hundred meters on, I see Batu standing with the baby carriage amid the swirling crowd, looking somehow perfectly composed among the chaos. Menna is somewhere trying to take a picture of me. I laugh. I lean over sweet Baby. I make her laugh, lightly pinching her cheek. ‘What do you think, Baby? What do you think of the town that light bulbs built?’

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Travelogue 654 – October 13
The Glow
Part Two

Authorities can agree that the light bulb was not invented in Eindhoven in North Brabant in the Netherlands. But beyond that it becomes hard to say much with authority. It’s one of those stories in history we’re getting used to, qualified by so many asterisks that one wonders if anyone ever gets an idea alone.

I’m guessing we have to settle for the simple answer, no. No one person could have invented the light bulb. Things technical require a series of ideas. Even something small like the mundane light bulb. Or the gloeilamp. Even if one person came up with the idea complete, there is no context. The light bulb requires an electrical network. The light bulb in all its glory requires apparatus to support it. It requires a commercial process to make it economically viable. And what sense is something like the light bulb if it can’t be sold in the market? Before that could happen, dozens of minds had to fiddle with the details, the vacuum inside the bulb, and which kind of filament to light up.

The inventors of the early nineteenth century were tinkerers, in the tradition of the eighteenth-century gentleman scientist. There was one Humphry Davy, cast in just that mould, chemist and tinkerer and mad scientist, born in Cornwall and apprenticed to a doctor and apothecary. Inquisitive and irrepressible boy and man, he never stopped playing with chemicals, and he seemed charmed in his chain of acquaintance, quickly making impressions on the likes of Watt and Coleridge, Southey, and Priestley, graduating to sharing nitrous oxide with this group of worthies. He became lab supervisor at the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, graduated to the Royal Institution in London, and then to the Royal Society. He became a famous lecturer, known for sensational demonstrations of chemistry in action. Among his incessant experimentation, he managed to discover a number of elements, most notably sodium and potassium.

In 1802, Davy exhibited a burning filament of platinum in the Royal Institution. This was probably intended more as a demonstration of the power of his homemade battery, the most powerful in the world at the time. Light didn’t seem a primary preoccupation of his set. They preferred the sizzle of funny compounds in the lab. And yet, here stands Mr. Davy as an early milestone in our story of the light bulb. He did go on, in 1806, to demonstrate an arc light between two charcoal rods. But after that, he left it to another generation to continue the work.

Stories like the light bulb’s need their celebrities like Davy and Edison. And then there are the grey soldiers in between, whose parts are limited, due to either misfortune or lack of ambition. Brilliance doesn’t presuppose natural star power or ruthless intent.

There are the walk-ons, like one John Starr from Cincinnati who filed the first U.S. patent for an incandescent lamp, in 1844. He travelled to Europe to market his idea, and he contracted tuberculosis and died. He had the ambition, but he had no luck. Before him, there was one Scotsman, James Bowman Lindsay demonstrating a constant incandescent light for a group in Dundee in 1835. But he didn’t follow up, being more interested in pursuing his ideas around wireless telegraphy. He apparently had a number of ideas well ahead of his time, but little of the drive that would have cemented his achievements in the public mind. He had his own priorities. He poured years into compiling a dictionary of fifty-three languages, and he never finished. He turned down a post at the British Museum in order to care for his ageing mother. And history passed him by.

And so it is that, after the flashy achievements of Edison and Swan and Tesla, that there comes along another flavourless character, one Gerard Philips, who convinces his dad the banker, that there is a future in mass producing light bulbs. Though he seems singularly uninspiring – it’s hard to find more than a few paragraphs of biography about him, -- his little company went on to be the biggest producer of light in the world. And he started it in a factory building in little Eindhoven – not even a decade after Vincent Van Gogh lived in nearby Neunen and painted some of his early masterpieces.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Travelogue 653 – October 12
The Glow
Part One

Last year when we went to Eindhoven, Troy and I took a bike ride out toward Neunen in search of the glow trail laid in honour of Vincent Van Gogh. We only found the turned up earth where we guessed the bike trail would be laid. We did also find the watermolen, the old mill, that Vincent painted in 1884.

I suppose it’s in remembrance of that great expedition that the psyche presented me with a dream last night. Troy and I were performing in a band at an art fair. Troy was calling himself Pez, and he was center stage. He was on guitar, and I was playing bass. The composition was a good one, the bass melodic and the guitar providing metallic abstractions. No one was listening because it was an art fair, of course, but the music was impressive.

We’ve returned to Eindhoven, but without Troy this year. The Eindhoven half marathon is the close to my annual cycle of road races.

Menna likes Eindhoven. It’s a city that feels like a small town. That’s precisely what the taxi driver says about Eindhoven. We’re asking him what it’s like. ‘It’s like a village. You leave your house in the morning, you see people you know on the street. It’s nice.’

The city is small enough that Troy and I were able to ride our clunky rental bicycle from the center of town out past the city limits, out into the countryside and all the way to the edges of the town of Neunen. The flat fields, lit by yellow rapeseed, were still modelling for nineteenth-century painters. The broken clouds were flying low over the horizon, and the autumn sunlight seemed attenuated.

Menna and I, Batu and Baby are staying in a hotel outside the center. It’s far enough out that we can see some fields, though only a fifteen-minute city bus ride from the center. It stands on the opposite side of town than Neunen; otherwise I would be tempted to rent a cycle and try again. Maybe the glow trail has been laid. What would Vincent have thought, coming across a glowing path by his rustic water mill?

The race itself almost defeats me before I’ve begun. Roads are blocked all over town, and the buses are diverted. And I only piece that together on the morning of the race. I have to call a taxi and hope for the best. We arrive as the race is starting, the driver pulling up as close as he can. I’m pulling sweats off in the front seat, then pinning my number to my chest. I’m out of the car and running toward the back of the pack up ahead. Once I reach them, it’s ten minutes before our section passes the starting line. It’s a big crowd. I spend almost the whole race surging through the mob, trying to find my place among runners at my pace.

The taxi driver is proud of his town. He says it’s a city that feels like a village. But it’s got a lot that a village doesn’t. There are many big businesses centered here. It’s a center of tech and design. He says there is a huge international school. Menna likes that.

I’m enjoying his civic pride. We discuss PSV, the Eindhoven football team, the best in Holland. He tells us about Meneer Frits.

Eindhoven is a corporate town, and it must be one of the oldest corporate towns there is. It’s with genuine sadness that the taxi driver tells us that Philips has been in the process of moving out for some time. Philips was founded here over a hundred years ago and the company has given the history of this town definition.

And the story begins with the light bulb, that strange little invention with such impact on the life of the species, glass bulb filled with gas, tiny carbon filament set in the middle and super-heated until it glows. In Dutch, it’s called a gloeilamp, a glow lamp.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Travelogue 652 – October 6
Bill Retires

I’m running beside the water of Teatown Lake, blue waters thick with lily pads, blue waters reflecting the clear and the dark blue skies, autumnal Atlantic skies of the Hudson River Valley. There are touches of red among the leaves of the trees.

Now I’m running on the water. There’s a stretch of floating boardwalk, and as I run, it creaks and it bangs section against section. Just above the nearest bank is the road. There are houses. A few neighbours are watching me. At the far end of the boardwalk, the trail dives back into hilly woods, and the lakeshore recedes. I have to watch my feet here, the trail leaping over roots as thick as heavy nautical rope left uncoiled, and leaping over ridges of exposed grey stone.

It’s been a good workout. I’ve done two circuits around the lake, supplemented by long digressions down woodland trails. This run has certainly worked the ankles. Every step has to be carefully placed, and none was the same as the last. It’s exhilarating. It keeps you alert. I’ve missed the trails in Ethiopia. The dance within the run keeps the body and mind young.

And it’s peace. The water stares skyward in an attitude of waiting. I’ve been lucky this trip, finding opportunities with nature. In Minneapolis I returned to Fort Snelling State Park and run the trails by the river. Now this at Teatown. I’ve missed that America. The sky quietly returns its blue to the water of the lake.

After the run I look for peace again, this time in Rick’s back yard. I rest my aching joints and muscles in the hammock in Rick’s yard. I’m looking up through the encircling branches, some oak, some fir. I’m listening to the birdsong. I’m awake but I would like to be drowsing. The jet lag has made sleep uneasy.

I’m allowing the busy circles of the previous weeks to echo and spend themselves among my thoughts. I would need weeks in the hammock to allow the time to unravel, trivial scenes rising like bubbles in their solution, ready each to burst with their small load of tension. Last week was Minnesota and the annual rituals of business.

I’m waiting for my number in the surprisingly comfortable DMV office downtown in the Hennepin County courthouse, Minnesota. The receptionist is a friendly man, quick to help. I’m there to renew my driver’s license. He produces a number. The chairs are upholstered comfortably in soothing colours. There is a play area for children in one corner. A Hispanic dad lifts his little daughter onto the plastic play set there. The whole space is designed to calm. I watch the screen for my number, and my thoughts bubble and pop. As the minutes pass, and I am forced to stay put, I feel my body relax. By the time my time approaches, I’m regretting having to move. I withdraw my new glasses from their case. The last time I was here, I barely passed the vision test. I remember the kind elderly woman behind the counter, how she let me try again. I place the glasses on the bridge of my nose, and I wait to be called. I’ll be next.

Another morning dawns in Westchester County. I’ve returned to the Starbucks in Chappaqua where I can wait for the appearance of Bill and Hillary. The windows are fogged. The streets of little Chappaqua are wet. Inside it’s cosy, almost absurdly so. I’m watching the people coming in, and I’m wondering about them. Are they all children of privilege? What are the signs of it? I’m not sure what I should be looking for. They do seem cheerful. Is that a bad sign? Chappaqua was a town founded by the Quakers. Has the philosophy of peace suffused the place, becoming a part of the green landscape? Is that what has drawn all the optimists?

Taking a minute to glance at the headlines of the New York Times, I see Mr. Putin is misbehaving again, charging into the china shop in Syria just because he can.

They say Peter the Great attended Quaker services when he visited in England, but did he take any home with him? Did he invest them with any colonies to build into outposts of affluence for future generations, places where retired kings may share a coffee with the common man? The sect was built upon the notion, after all, of a priesthood of believers. In peaceful Chappaqua, you could still believe we are chosen, ‘an holy nation, a peculiar people’. If only Mr. Putin had such a legacy, maybe he wouldn’t be afraid to retire. He might trust that there was a hammock in the yard even for the old czar.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Travelogue 651 – October 5

We’re sitting by the pool. I’m asking Rick about the trees around his yard, the trees we can see surrounding us in his expansive back yard. I’m thinking I’m seeing fir and pine, maple and oak. He confirms, and he tells me more. There are ash. There are some cedars. He says this used to be a white cedar swamp. He points one white cedar out to me, but I don’t see anything distinct about it. Rick dreams of planting more and resurrecting the natural habitat, but he fears the zoning restrictions. Rick knows nature. He used to manage nature centers in New England.

I’m visiting Westchester County, New York. We’re sitting outdoors on a sunny afternoon. We’re relaxing in the sunshine out by his pool, even as the squirrels cavort among the highest branches of the oaks above us, raining down upon us a regular bombardment of heavy acorns. They strike the cement of the patio with a thud. They bounce a man’s height. They plunk into the pool.

I’m learning that the white cedar is also called ‘arborvitae’, tree of life, because of its purported medicinal qualities. I’m trying to imagine these hills in their virginal state, something Rick can picture quite readily. The woods and swamps would be nearly impassable. I wonder at the labour expended by those hardy colonizers of the seventeenth century.

Yes, I’m back in New England, where America has real history. I mean a history that is palpable, lives cohabitant in our space. I’ll include Westchester County in New England, since we’re only a few miles from the Connecticut border. I hope they don’t mind. The roads are certainly New England style, narrow and winding precariously among the wooded hills. Rick is commenting on the roads as we drive them, noting which follow trading routes dating back to the colonial days. Some routes are over three hundred years old. It’s true, some are clearly in need of repair. But still, how does one summon the powers of imagination to see this for what it once was, a Sleepy Hollow wilderness with mere trails for passage?

Even as they are, the roads seem hardly passable. At the least I can say they are unnerving. I see everything through a runner’s eyes, and I see myself perishing on the crumbling shoulder of any one of these curves.

Rick is the prefect host. He drives me to a state park for one day’s long run. I’m not sure that it isn’t a practical joke. Kim is along for the ride. He warns me that the trails may be hard on the ankles. I boast that I’ve run trails in the mountains of Ethiopia. Of course, only two hundred meters down the first trail I twist my ankle, and not lightly. I push through the pain, as I’ve learned well – yes, on the trails in Ethiopia, -- so that I don’t allow the ankle to swell. But I slow down, reminded now that I am in New England, and the earth is hard and gnarled as the roots of the dense trees.

This is Teatown Lake Reservation, where the forests and wildlife are protected, and where children learn about nature. There is a pack of them there to witness my fall from grace. I’m thinking as I run that this must be a New England hazing ritual for visitors. The trail is faint, barely discernible in places. Fortunately the routes are well-marked by coloured reflectors. The leaves have fallen over the rocks and roots, so one must be vigilant in protection of one’s ankles. I am led through thorns and over hunch-backed boulders, deposited onto asphalt roads at intervals, where I have to search for the trail on the other side. I run through marshy spots, where the trail is a series of boards laid in disjointed lines. I am led up one relentless hillside, slick with fallen leaves. There is no view from the summit, the trees being too thick. Eventually I make it back to the central lake. It’s a humble body of water. It is small, its placid waters distributed among a few fingers. It looks cold already, dark blue against the heavy green of the forests.