Sunday, June 01, 2008

From May to June: Items from the Past

The May-June junction came on a weekend this year, and both days were pleasantly clear and warm (unlike the bizarre chill of last Tuesday). It was also a pleasant weekend in other ways, mostly in the company of my family, at home or within a few miles of it. But some years have found me further away. I never thought about it before, but they all involved heavy rain:

June 1, 1983.

We woke fairly earlier and assembled in the common area for a breakfast of egg, ham, toast, canned spaghetti and tea. I sat next to an old German and a young one, and near the English schoolboys, but the Australian was missing. Soon I headed into town and spent the rest of the day by myself, wandering around Cambridge.

Early in the day, I visited a sizable bookstore, then King’s College Chapel and its magnificent ceilings & intricate stonework & stained glass. It was partly cloudy and cool, so I walked a long way along the banks of the River Cam, eying the famous flatboats on the river and the ducks on the shore, which seemed to be everywhere, feeding on a harvest of earthworms that washed up in last night’s tremendous thunderstorm.

June 1, 1994.

Yesterday we were supposed to leave early from Bangkok, but Olivi Travel made a mistake, booking us to leave for Ko Samet this morning. We pointed this out, and they arranged for us to take a bus leaving in mid-morning. Along the highway SE of Bangkok there seemed to be an endless variety of warehouse space, but then we turned onto a smaller road, passing agricultural land, but also a surprising amount of unused land – bumpy green hilly tracts.

So today we are on Ko Samet, a smallish island in the Gulf of Thailand, not to be confused with Ko Samui, which I’ve read sports a much larger tourist infrastructure. Our bungalow is partway up a hill from the beach, a little wooden shack, really, but the bed is fairly comfortable and has its own mosquito net, an essential item in these parts. Last night a large storm blew through, rattling the walls, tapping heavily on the roof and whooshing the trees around the shack in various directions.

At the moment, I’m sitting under the trees at the shore of Ao Phai, one of the island’s beaches. The sand is very fine and very white. Yuriko is bobbing up and down out in the surf. There’s a wind from the sea strong enough to cool me & drive away most of the biting insects while I read short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

May 31, 2002

Our last full day in Montreal was punctuated by thunderstorms. We sought shelter in various places around the Quartier Latin that morning, including Café Croissant de Lune on Rue St. Denis, for a fine breakfast, and various parts of the University of Montreal.

By afternoon, we went to St. Joseph’s Oratory, which includes a large basilica and some other religious buildings set on a hill some miles from Old Montreal. Its founder, one Brother Andre, was reputed to be a healer, a circumstance attested by piles of crutches near his tomb. The view of Montreal from the steps of the basilica was grand, but the interior (completed in 1960) was not — it was austere enough to pass for some kind of Protestant church. My favorite part of the complex was a small museum devoted to nativity scenes, displaying scores of them from dozens of countries, made from an amazing variety of materials, including a chocolate one.

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