Monday, May 24, 2010

Powerfully Close

Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes, Connecticut. So where the hell am I now? Damned if I know!

Wait, let me take a peek out of the window. Draw back the curtains just a touch. Ohhhhh, yes. I remember now. I’m in Oxford. No, not Oxford, England. Oxford, Maryland. On Chesapeake Bay. Just about 40 miles from the White House in Washington DC.

The British (or, “you”, as someone put it to us yesterday) sailed into Chesapeake Bay just over 200 years ago on a fateful expedition to set Washington alight, igniting the war that would wrest North America from colonial hands and establish the United States.

But this quaint backwater, with it’s English overtones (and undertones), could hardly present a more different face of modern-day America. The Oxford Inn, where we are staying, is like an old-fashioned hotel in the Scottish Highlands - from its squeaky floorboards, to its village pub filled with local worthies spilling beer and stories.

Just down the road is the Scottish Highland Creamery, which produces amazing ice-cream from traditional Italian recipes. The owner is, of course, a Scot. From Edinburgh.

There are hundreds of miles of coastline following ragged inlets in and out of bays and creeks. The roads are all inland, long driveways leading off into trees on either side towards hidden houses which face on to the water, each with its own private jetty, and a curious veil of anonymity. People who live here are, for the most part, either very rich, or very private.

As someone said in the bar last night, about forty percent of the population is probably on the witness protection scheme.

But it is also an artistic community, with writers, artists and poets settling in large numbers in search of inspiration and peace.

Among them is Kathy Harig, who recently moved her delightful mystery bookstore down here from Baltimore. Which was where, yesterday, I chatted with customers and signed books, on a damp, quiet Sunday.

Seven days ago we were in upstate New York, since when I have driven nearly 1200 miles, stopping in Connecticut, New York City, and Pittsburgh, PA. There, on Saturday morning, I gave a talk to a full-house at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont.

Owners, Mary-Alice and Richard, had laid on breakfast for their regular customers, who filled all the available table space, nibbling muffins and sipping coffee as I talked about my books. We had a lively and fun session, culminating in the signing of many books.

We left at midday, to pick up a take-away pizza, and get on the road for the six-hour drive south-east to Chesapeake.

I have to confess to a serious dose of fatigue. I feel (and probably look) as if I have aged ten years on this trip. Careful dieting and serious exercise will be necessary preparation in the weeks ahead of ever doing this again. But right now, for the purposes of recovery, all I want is to sleep - in my own bed!

But wait. Again. It’s not over. Today is a “day off”. A chance for some relaxing tourism, to take some fresh air and seafood. Then tomorrow it’s off to DC, an event at Borders at Bailey’s Crossroads, and an overnight at the home of our friend Barbara Busch. Before moving on to Richmond, Virginia, for a speaking engagement at the LaPrade library.

Then, and I hardly dare to believe it, we climb aboard an airplane at Dulles Airport and fly home to Paris.

But for now, that is a thought that I will push to the back of my mind. The game is not over till the fat lady sings.

Tonight, I will go to bed again, knowing that the President of the United States is slipping between the sheets less than an hour’s drive away. Tomorrow night I get a little nearer. For Barbara lives less than five miles from the White House. And that’s probably as close to the most powerful man in the world as I’m ever likely to get.


DJ Kirkby said...

Chesapeake bay looks gorgeous...and mosquito ridden. I'm guessing that they're the size of B52 Bombers? If they're not out yet then you'll be able to guesws by the thickness of the mosquito screens over the windows :). I see you had a 'day off' during which you attended a speaking engagement. Do you sleep for a month when you get back from your book tours?

peter_may said...

The mozzies have not put in an appearance yet, DJ. But you're right, thick black screens everywhere. I would love to sleep for a month, but no such luck. A manuscript to revise as soon as we get back, then off again on what virtually amounts to a promotional tour of France. I hope I haven't forgotten all my French!!

DJ Kirkby said...

I doubt you've forgotten your French :) and if you have it will come back straight away. I saw Carol in London last night, she looked amazing as usual - vibrant and very ALIVE in that Carol sort of way.