I’ve just woken up and am sitting on a balcony looking over what must be the whole of America. The sea is now turquoise and a light breeze is rustling in the palm trees. It’s cloudier than it was yesterday, but still very pleasant.
Since being here, I’ve realised how similar this place is to Spain. For a start, Spanish seems almost as universally spoken as English but visually there are constant reminders. Last night we wandered along a pedestrianised street filled with outdoor restaurants, street entertainers and jewellery stalls and I was reminded of the Ramblas in Barcelona. We had some fairly horrible Italian food, watched a transvestite tap-dancing in platform heels and then sat in a bar where I drank two gin and tonics and immediately wanted to talk to everyone who'd listen. Fortunately tiredness eventually won and I guess we were all tucked up in bed by Midnight Florida time.
The people here feel very different to the people in New York. There’s a sort of earthiness in Miami tangled up with a whiff of redneck. It makes me wonder whether my love of all things American isn’t more a love of New York. Scratch the surface and I’m wondering whether things smell less fragrant over here. On our way to the hotel from the airport, we crossed over to Miami Beach via a very large bridge from the mainland, which was sitting on a sort of spit of land covered in shrubs and the odd scrawny palm tree. By the side of the road were a series of tents; “what an awful place to go camping” I said to the driver; “or are they homeless people?” The driver’s response rather floored me; “They’re sexual predators" he said "they’ve been released from jail, but they’re not allowed to live within 1000 metres of anyone, so they'll stay here until the government can work out what to do with them”. Surely no truly progressive country would allow this to happen. Frankly, if someone cannot be trusted to live anywhere other than in a tent on a bridge, he’s not yet ready to be released from jail.
350 years ago and in far less progressive times, Pepys was up by 4am. He must have had a terrible hangover, but he was very quickly out of Cambridge and on the road back to London. He stopped at Audley End House, just outside Saffron Walden. Interesting for me as my parents live in the next-but-one village of Thaxted.
Apparently it was not unusual in those days for a well-dressed traveller to turn up unannounced at a stately home and expect to be given a tour and that's exactly what Pepys did. On this occasion it was the housekeeper who did the honours, and Pepys was impressed; “the stateliness of the ceilings, chimney-pieces, and form of the whole was exceedingly worth seeing”
He was taken down into the cellars, where he helped himself to wine, drank more toasts to the King, and played on his flageolette, enjoying the “excellent echo” down there. Again, quite where Pepys had kept his flageolette on his horseback journey to Cambridge is almost as interesting a question as what the housekeeper must have thought when he whipped it out in the cellar!
Pepys headed back to Saffron Walden and at the White Horse Inn, there was more roguish behaviour; “kissed the daughter of the house, she being very pretty
He continued his journey. It was raining, but the roads were good. He got as far as Epping, where he turned in for the night after a game of cards and “some merry talk with a plain bold maid of the house” which brings to mind some ghastly scene from a bawdy Restoration Comedy; “Come quick, Mistress Pert-bottom, I greet your heaving bosom like a suckling pig”. Well I guess whilst the cat’s away the mice will play...
We had an incredible sunset last night and this is the view from our balcony!