Thursday, 21 August 2014

Kingbird Highway to Rome via Wanstead

I birded Wanstead on Saturday, although that mightn't be hugely apparent from the title. Autumn has started. I know this as Nick told me, so I came out and had a look. It was great, so good I've been out twice this week. Whinchat, Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Med Gull, Garden Warbler - it has definitely started, and I hope to enjoy more of it. I'm inspired to go birding again, and there is lots planned - and I mean lots. 

Sunday was another early start. 4.15am to be exact. Hard, in other words. Hard to get up, hard to believe I was doing it again. I enjoy it, I tell myself. And I do, but sometimes I enjoy my bed too, and after a wedding reception the prior evening, another three hours would have been spot on. But no, and anyway, I could snooze on the plane, could I not? Well, as it happened, no I couldn't. The reason? Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann. Now an established author and highly respected birder in the US, this book details his birding coming of age as he hitched back and forth across the US in the mid seventies, and it's wonderful. I'd read it before of course, but as I cosied up in the lounge with a coffee and several mini pain au chocolats, it was immediately obvious that the sleep wasn't going to happen. Oh well, another shattering weekend.

We landed right on time, but Rome airport was a fiasco. This was no problem, as it gave me more time to read my book, and I closed on about page 150, probably about a third of the way through his "Big Year", leaving him at the Dry Tortugas. Had I been at home it's entirely possible I would have been caught up in the moment and booked a ticket to Arizona there and then, so perhaps it was for the best that I was on the Leonardo Express into Termini, Rome's central railway station. Whilst my french is good, my german passable, and my spanish so-so, my italian is non existent. I'll just wave my hands around, I figured, and mostly it worked. 

I exited onto wide streets, a huge church almost immediately in front of me. And do you know what? I went in it. Yes I, JL, set foot in a church. I actually also briefly set foot in a London church a few weeks ago, but that was just to pick Mrs L up. This church I walked into of my own volition, and I was quite transfixed, for churches in Rome are different somehow. They are grander, more opulent, seeped in age and history. I read not a single information board, it's not my style. I merely wandered, looked and listened. And was largely amazed.

Il Papa had very rudely gone to Korea. Snuffi disappointed.

Shortly after I took this, this guy jumped through a hoop and planted a custard pie in the face of a Carabinieri

The renowned Renaissance sculptor Panasonic
It's a real walking city, and I walked my little legs off. A meandering route via a leisurely lunch, the Pantheon to take photos of people taking photos, various churches, the Castello Sant'Angelo, St Peter's Square, the Gieuseppe Garibali monument, the Tiber, some palace or other, the Forum, the Colosseum.....the list is basically endless and I saw barely a fraction of it. A real walking city, stunning in every respect, I loved every second of my visit and need to go back as soon as possible. Binoculars? Not a chance. 



How could I resist?
Back in the US, the protagonist had moved on to High Island in Texas. I need to follow him there is essentially my thinking at this point. It's such a good book. Kerouac meets Dylan meets Mark Cocker. It makes you want to travel, it makes you want to go birding, it lights in you the flame of discovery and of adventure. He ate catfood, and spent less than $1000 in the entire year to rack up what was at that time the second highest ABA yearlist ever, possibly even the highest depending on whether Baja is counted or not. I finished it on the return flight and almost want to read it again straight away. But I have plenty of other things on my kindle that I ought to get through. The advantage of so much time commuting and travelling is that I get time to read, one of life's genuine pleasures.

The eternal city

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