On Monday, we leave for a fortnight of fun in London (and Chawton and Bath). The catch is this: we are non-revving, which is airline employee lingo meaning we fly for (almost) free, but have to stand-by for a seat. So, we really cannot know which airports we'll be stuck in and for how long until we get to our destination. Jason has an intricate network of all possible routes on a spreadsheet. He is our logistics guy. He'll get us there and back.
"Make sure the iPad is fully charged," counseled one friend blithely. "Load up on lots of new movies," suggested another. "Don't forget your DS stylus," warned a third, "you'll never hear the end of it."
"No," I said in reply. We do not have an iPad or Kindle Fire or whatever that new thing from Microsoft is for which they have produced some of the most obnoxious commercials in recent memory. We are leaving the iPods at home. And, I haven't been able to find the Nintendo DS for more than 6 months now. We are traveling unplugged. Sadie-Bug unplugged.
Foolish, you say? Masochistic? Inconceivable? Nonsense, I say: visionary. At least, visionary if your vision encompasses the glory days of the 1980's, which is when I took a trip, at Sadie's almost-current age of 10, with my father to England and Wales for three weeks. Not having any new-fangled diversionary devices, I had to pay attention. I also read books. Get this: I read the Narnia series for the first time whilst driving with my pop through the backroads of England. Who is the lucky-ducky here, huh?
Our Sadie-Bug, God love her, gets lost in screens. Give her a screen, and you have said goodbye to any meaningful interaction with Bugster until you have wrested said flickering, back-lit monster from her grasp. If we brought her iPod, loaded with movies, she would never look out the window on the train from London to Bath, or talk to us, or pay attention. Even if we packed the device away, she would sulk and pout until it was hers again. Better just not to bring it. We are bringing books.
And, speaking of books, I'm in a rush to finish Amity Shlaes's new Coolidge biography, appropriately titled, Coolidge. I had originally ordered it to be my travel book to London, but then Jason and I had a big set-to. Coolidge is more than 400 pages and hardcover; Jason gestured -- wildly and futilely -- at my neglected Kindle lying forlorn and uncharged in the basket at the foot of our bed. "This," he cried in hoarse desperation, "this is why I bought you the Kindle! Upload the damn book on Kindle, and don't go lugging that doorstop all over England."
Petulant, I whined in return, "But I don't like to read books on Kindle. I like to read real, paper books. Waaaaaa!"
"I know," he replied in exasperation, "Kindle sucks for everyday reading. But, for traveling, and traveling light, it is your best option."
"I don't wanna! Waaaa!"
"Fine," he glowered at me, "And I suppose that's not the only book you're planning to bring."
"Well," I gulped, "I was going to bring one more."
"And that is . . . ?"
"My new Roger Scruton book," I whispered, too ashamed to meet his eye,
"You mean the hardcovered 400+ page tome that is resting on your nightstand right now?"
Teensy-weensy now, "Yes."
"Aaaargh!" His eyes rolled, and his face darkened even more, and he turned away from me in disgust.
So, for peace, peace, when there is no peace, I have decided to read the Shlaes book before we leave. It is rather good. She does not write the most lucid prose I have ever read, but she knows how to pick out an interesting story to illustrate her point. So far, I'm a little disappointed in Calvin Coolidge, though he has long been one of my favorite presidents. It's mostly this: he went immediately from reading law after college into politics, with little private enterprise between. That is annoying. Still, his character was always sound, and his politics grew more so the longer he served in office. His handling of the police strike in Boston whilst he was governor of Massachusetts was sublime.
Here is something interesting about Coolidge's political rise: It seems that the longer he was in office, the more conservative he became. The more conservative he became, the more people loved him. And the more they loved him, the more they voted for him and his ideas. This runs completely counter to the common wisdom that moderates will rule the day. Of course, the makeup of the American electorate was different back in the early part of the 20th century, at least in some ways. There was a huge influx of immigrants, many of whom spoke English (the Irish), but many of whom did not (the Italians). There was much more wide-spread poverty than today. And you had the terrible, unconscionable effects of culturally acceptable, institutional racism, too. Yet, even with all these problems, America was different. Something wholesome and good was at its core -- a youth and optimism that, though things are tough, this was still the best place to be. You did not look at your neighbor with a predatory eye, coveting his goods, expecting him to provide for you. Attempts at class warfare fell flat, because most Americans did not see any reason why they or their children could not be the next Stearns or Morgan or Mellon. We have grown old and rotten at our core. I am beginning to suspect that Coolidge's greatness just reflected the greatness of America at the time. We get the leaders we deserve -- and, as Mencken would point out, we get them good and hard.
But, enough of that. My point here is that we are traveling unplugged. The Luddite in me rejoices! Yes, the blogging, high-speed Internet-connected, jumbo jet-flying Luddite within! LOL! But, we will not be completely without screens, alas. Apparently, British Airways features an extensive library of movies and TV shows on their in-flight entertainment system. The challenge will be this: through how many pages of math and how many Latin and Greek flashcards can I march Sadie before I give in to the temptation of peaceful reading promised by the beguilingly blank screen in front of her seat?