I’ve never been happier to learn that a bus ride would be at least 2 hours long than I was this morning. When our bus left at 8:00, I still desperately needed a couple more hours’ recovery time from the night before. Thanks to my most finely honed skill of being able to pass out anywhere anytime, the bus ride provided greatly needed sleep.
Today featured a small town followed by a small town wrapping up with another small town. they were definitely less than memorable. The first town’s main attraction was the decayed remnants of a small castle, but is also included a mud pit with a little bit of a river through the middle that reminded me of the Susquehanna River around good old Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At some roadside abbey, I was one of many on my tour to get lost in the woods looking for a famous vantage point. However, the power of wandering paid off in the second village of the day: we luckily arrived in an otherwisenormal small town during a literary festival, which meant free champagne and sushi. I even drifted into the end of a speech by neurologist Oliver Sacks. He’s famous for “An Anthropologist on Mars,” in which he wanes poetic about some of the more interesting cases he’s dealt with.
My favorite Sacks case was the man trapped in the sixties. As a skinny flower-power teen, he’d grown his hair long and rebelled against everything, taking solace in dropping acid as he followed the Grateful Dead. After several years of no contact from their wayward son, his parents learned that he’d joined a cult in New York City. Months of trying to contact him were met with only a letter from the sect informing them that their son was progressing greatly in his meditation and had transferred to their main temple in New Orleans. Some years later, they got a hold of the Louisiana cult branch. Surprisingly, it was willing to let them have their son back. Even more surprisingly, he was now fat, bald, and as blind as a bat! The cult had mistaken a brain tumor that eventually grew as large as a grapefruit for progress towards enlightenment. After the tumor was removed, the poor guy was just a jovial lump, in a good mood but unable to remember anything more recent than Grateful Dead lyrics from the seventies. Sacks took the guy to a Grateful Dead reunion concert, much to the lost man’s delight. Somehow, he managed to remember lyrics from the reunion show, but he still can’t remember anything else for more than 5 minutes.
Anyways, Sacks was an engaging speaker. He stressed the need for narrative in learning: “I hate facts. They have to be embedded in something more.” He “umm”ed a lot while answering questions, but that may have just been his way of really thinking before answering.
After the applause, I approached him and asked how one might make the transition he did, from writing a journal of about a page daily to something more substantial. His answer? “A page a day is wonderful. You don’t have to make any transition.” That certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear, but it’s probably best not to argue with neurologists who moonlight as bestselling authors.
Evening was in yet another tiny town. At the village’s 1 Indian restaurant, I had an excellent dish: it was so spicy that sweat streamed down my face as I ate it. Our hostel gave me the impression that it had been a 5-star hotel years ago, when the current owner’s parents ran it. After the friendly hippy son took over, he decided to keep it nice but make it more amenable to younger travelers, probably adding the cheap rates, bunk beds, talking parrot in the lobby, and open-as-late-as-customers-will-stay bar.
The manager was even cool enough to teach Mike and I how to play snooker. Basically pool on steroids, this sweet game entails a playing surface probably almost twice as big as a pool table, warrants its own room for 1 table, and includes the option of using sticks a good 9 feet long. Although games could easily take half an hour, snooker skunks pool any day.
Nightlife left a little to be desired. Out of a vague yearning to avoid the tourist spots, I decided we shouldn’t hang out at the hotel bar. So, we set out to explore the vastness of this town. After 5 minutes, we’d seen everything there was to do in this village: 2 bars, each with a nightclub on a separate floor. These places were such local joints that we definitely got “you’re not from here, what are you doing up in these parts?” looks upon walking into each of these saloons. The nightclubs were interesting: patrons ranged from 12-year-olds to their grandparents with a fairly even spread of ages. I wrapped up one of the less exciting nights of my life with more snooker at the hotel bar. I’ll take tourists my age over local grandmas any day.