Friday, 29 November
They say that just before you die, your whole life passes before you. That has just happened to me but, as of this writing, I am still very much alive.
Though still recovering, from a 10-day whirlwind book tour of the US for my novel The Art of Regret. Fortunately not one of the nightmare scenarios I imagined in my last blog came true. Except for an error in reading a bus timetable that did not affect anything but the state of my nerves, travel went smoothly. Each event was well-enough attended and I didn’t embarrass myself by freezing up mid-sentence. Hearty thanks to all of you who came - and bought books!
My route was snail-shaped: San Francisco, Boston, Wayne, PA, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago. And thanks to the long arms of social media and email, people from my past - the way long ago past of my elementary school in Chicago, my boarding school in Connecticut and my college in Maine, my early days in Paris - appeared like magic in each place. Almost all of them, it should be noted, were women, which isn't surprising, since the wiser sex has the good sense to read fiction. Generally speaking men prefer history, even if a look at the world that they still largely run indicates not many of its lessons have been learned.
Each encounter brought back waves of memories and sensations, from struggling in art class age 10 to make an apple look something like an edible fruit, to hanging out in the smoking room (yes, smoking room!) at boarding school, to my first tentative days in Paris when I was younger than my children now are. Along the way I stayed with friends, also from different stages of my life, and their presence bolstered me, made the act of speaking to a crowd much less scary.
Besides having my life pass before me, I also experienced the present. Except for my evening appearances I was strangely free and had more time than usual to observe and contemplate the world around me. And to photograph it. There were the train stations, small...
There were several airports.
Though not the case in the less affluent areas...
...the well-heeled parts of the country were in a holding pattern over Halloween...
...in anticipation of Thanksgiving...
National and global problems were alarmingly on display. Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area may have the fifth highest income per capita in the US but rainfall has been so scarce that power outages are being imposed to help prevent fires from breaking out.
Meanwhile in Chicago the waters of Lake Michigan are frighteningly high.
But the backdrop to everything, everywhere I went, was the Congressional impeachment hearings, the public component of which began two days into my trip. I keep reading that most Americans are not paying attention, that they don't care what is going on inside the Capitol, but that was not the case with anyone I ran across. In fact the hearings' pervasiveness made it seem as if absolutely nothing else was happening in the world. TV screens were on in airports and people’s homes.
My Lyft taxi drivers were listening to the proceedings on the radio. While I was on my way to the airport in Washington, Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council official, gave her riveting opening statement. As we wound through the streets of the nation's capital, Ms Hill movingly described how America had given her the opportunity to advance in her career, despite her coal-miner's daughter roots and un-posh accent, both of which would have been crippling handicaps in her native Great Britain. She then, in no-nonsense, frank language, reminded Congress that there are such things as facts:
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
My driver, who like me had been silently hanging on her every word, said when Ms Hill finished: “Women should be running the world.”
It's a thought.