Opium. Twice while I was in college I went to visit my parents in Kenya. The two visits blur in my memory; I'm not sure I can keep them separate. In one my folks were still living in Nairobi. They'd moved back into town from Ridgeways. That was the summer I took my friend the muse on our one and only date, up in the Ngong Hills. The Ngong Hills frame Nairobi the way The Flatirons frame Boulder. A constant backdrop, a theme song played at low volume. I still had a huge crush on her, and this time she agreed to go on a date with me. I made feverish preparations, cooking all manner of delicacies and picking a nice burgundy to set it off. This one didn't get drowned in sangria. I picked her up and we headed for the Ngong Hills. A friend told me a way to get to a particularly beautiful spot that was off the beaten path. He warned me I needed a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. I drove a VW fastback. The road was terrifying. I could have got stuck anywhere. I somehow made it through. My muse was suitably impressed. She said she knew Safari drivers who wouldn't have driven that road. We had a lovely time. I got us back down the same track. Never made it to first base. But it was OK. I was in love. It was also the summer I stayed up two nights in a row reading War and Peace. Then there was the opium. I was looking for hash but my guy didn't have it. He suggested I try opium. I bought a gummy ball of it. After I got home I realized I couldn't smoke it in my hash pipe so I ate it, à la De Quincey. I was lucky. Nothing happened. I went to sleep, had some vivid dreams, lost interest. A near miss. Alcohol and pot are bad enough.
Ticks. The other summer my parents had moved out to Voi.
That was a helluva trip. Voi is not a mile high like Nairobi, it's in the Nyiri Desert, in Kilimanjaro's rain shadow. Mom must've hated it. There was a photo of my dad holding up a cobra he'd just killed. It was a little over nine feet long. Two memories stand out: I cooked them some gourmet crap I'd come up with that was not very good and made them some fancy sangria using a bottle of Beaune and Grand Marnier. I sectioned and cut fresh oranges and put them in the punchbowl. I sprinkled them with sugar then poured Grand Marnier over and let that macerate. Right before dinner I poured in the chilled Beaune and some club soda for frizzante. Everyone loved it. The other memory is seed ticks. I had noticed reddish brown clumps on weed stalks along the trails but I didn't notice them closely enough. Those clumps were masses of seed ticks waiting for the next mammal to come along so they could complete their life cycle. I went hiking in shorts like a mad dog or an Englishman and brushed against one, getting thousands of them on my leg. I have never endured itching anywhere close to that before or since. I took a hot bath, thinking heat might help. Was that ever the wrong way to scratch my itch. But it probably helped kill them off. I soaked in really hot water.
Eurail. The other memory is not of Kenya but my trip back from Kenya to the Fishfarm. I visited with my folks in June, and my plan was to spend the rest of the summer traveling in Europe. I had a Eurail Pass and enough money to pull it off. I flew into London, planning to hang out there for a while before heading through the Chunnel for adventures on the continent. It was charming at first in London. I'd never spent time there before in the summer. I made my pilgrimage to Carnaby Street.
I admired the overpriced fashions. Not in my budget. I hung out in record stores. I'd never been in a record store where you could go in a booth and listen. I listened to new stuff from The Rolling Stones but didn't like it as much as their earlier stuff. I bought a psychedelic poster by Richard Avedon. No words, just The Beatles' four heads, each solarized a different color. Frugality for the Europe adventure ahead was key. I already knew where to go for cheap meals: Greek joints and chip shops.
OK, so my fish & chips weren't that good. But it's a sweet little video and I would love to try their chow. Those had been my standbys for Theater in London. The chip shops had different kinds of fish, not just cod. I would splurge a bit on plaice. It was a nice change. Not as pricey as salmon. The chips were a revelation. Sold by the kilo, drizzled with vinegar, wrapped in greasy newspaper. They were limp, which was somehow just right. They made me think of a poem by Roger McGough from a book I had, The Mersey Sound. Sometimes / i feel like a priest / in a fish & chip queue / quietly thinking / as the vinegar runs through / how nice it would be / to buy a supper for two. I was lonely.
Krystal Burger. The closest thing to a chip shop in Nairobi was Wimpy Burger. An outlet from the British chain. I liked the burgers. They reminded me of the famous 5¢ Krystal Burger. The original slider. In the Greek joints I could make a meal out of appetizers. A plate of hummus or baba ganoush and a pita. I loved how they served those spreading out on a plate with a little pool of olive oil in the middle, sprinkled with paprika. I followed those with galaktoboureko if I could afford it. I have a thing about custard. My one culinary splurge was beef burgundy in a nice but surprisingly friendly French restaurant. I'd never tasted anything like it. I was in love. It was the bacon. After about a week of cheap touristing it felt like time to head for Europe. I decided to leave on a Monday to avoid weekend transit crowds. That Sunday afternoon I headed out for a last walk in London. There were hippies in full regalia out in the street, all heading the same direction, so I tagged along. Hyde Park was where they were headed, and as we got closer I could hear music. Pink Floyd were giving a free concert in the park.
I wandered in and listened for a while, but started feeling lonely. One comment I recall overhearing was It's become a quest to see someone you know. But at least he had a girl to say it to. All those lovely people and I was all alone. I was shy; I didn't know how to meet people. Traveling alone in Europe felt like torture rather than adventure. I ended up cashing in my Eurail Pass and using that plus my traveler's checks to buy a sweet Yamaha acoustic guitar I'd been eyeing in a music store. Then I headed home to the welcoming safety of the Fishfarm.