Sunday, September 9, 2007

No Speak English

Mike drove Larry and I to Chichester, where we were to see two things: an old Cathedral followed by an even older castle. I couldn’t wait. I made sure my camera battery was fully charged before we left. My high capacity memory card would guarantee many dramatic photos.

It took about ten minutes to get from the parking lot to the cathedral. As we walked in, I was amazed and humbled at the same time. Built over a thousand years ago, the cathedral was grand and awe-inspiring.

After the introductory speech by the sweet little nun at the entrance, I made sure that it was okay to take photos. “We ask that if you do take photography, that you put a little extra in the collection box,” she said.

Baby, you got a deal. I wanted to hug her. This, if anything, would be an excellent place to practice my photography. Don’t you hate visiting some beautiful palace or cathedral, but you can’t take a single photograph? And it’s always the most lavish, stunning castle or palace you will have ever seen.

As we started around, I decided that I would lag behind so that I could take pictures without getting in the way. You'd think that only children get in trouble when they lag behind...

There was so much to see and photograph: grand stained glass windows, tapestries, statues, vaulted ceilings, tombs, archways, you name it. I was having a field day.

Larry backtracked and told me, “We’re gonna kind zip though this place so we can go to the castle.”

Fine. I took all the pictures I wanted, I just did it faster. Some of them were bound to come out blurry, as I didn’t have time to really focus. But that was okay.

I took a picture of a tapestry and moved on. I came up to a tomb with two worn statues laying across the top. I didn’t have time to read the enscription, so I stepped back and fired away.

I heard a voice behind me. “So, what do you think of them?”

Now, because there were other visitors to the cathedral, and Larry and Mike were ahead of me, I assumed this voice was not directed at me. I took another picture and started to walk away. I heard the voice again.

“So, what do you think of them?” Again, I ignored this voice.
“Excuse me,” said the voice, louder this time.

In retrospect, I should have just run away, but no. I turned around and was confronted by and old man with an enormous belly. He wore what looked to be what a priest would wear on casual Friday. This made me assume he worked for the church. Maybe he was the day manager or was in charge of printing fliers or something.

“What do you think of these two? Do you know who they are?”
I did not. I was only taking pictures because they were old and crumbling.
I didn’t really know what he was getting at, but I didn’t want to offend him, so I said something generic. “Well, I’m really amazed by the whole history of this cathedral.”

Again, he pressed, “Do you know who they are?”
“I’m sorry…I don’t,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. It was getting hot in there.
“Those are the crusaders,” he said with authority. “They are responsible for slaughtering thousands of people. Don’t you think that’s shocking?”

“Wow,” I said in mock amazement. I stared at the tomb again. Maybe it might collapse in on itself, giving me a distraction.
“I don’t quite care for them,” he added.
Holy history lesson.


He continued on, droning about history and morality and blah, blah, blah. I was trapped now. Mike and Larry had gone around the corner already. I slowly started walking, nodding my head and telephathically screaming for Mike and Larry to come save me.

So now I was cornered by some dirty old man hell bent on giving me a lecture, disguised as a history lesson.

Had I only known what was too follow, I’d have said, “Dude. I fuckin’ love the crusaders. They were so awesome!”

What I really wanted to say was, “Dude, look, just leave me the fuck alone. I don’t care about your moral stance on anything. I’m just here taking pictures because this place is older than God.”

The Inquisitor asked me what part of the states I was from, probably so he could lecture me about the Bush administration or abortion rights. Note to self for next time: you are Russian and don’t understand English.

After what felt like eternity, Mike and Larry came back around the corner and found me. I gave them a look that said, Run for your lives.

Mike started talking to the Blabbermouth and I sort of wandered away, like a little kid, while letting him transfer onto Mike, who, because he was a Brit, I assumed would be able to politely tell him to scram, so we could go on our merry way. Maybe I should have grabbed Mike and Larry under the arms and ran.

But no.

The Blabbermouth continued, unleashing enough stories, facts and trivia questions to give a history teacher an aneurysm.

As we headed towards the door, weird, clingy old man in tow, I tried to think of a way to hint that We really need to be going, but nothing useful came to me.

We dropped some pounds in the collection box as promised and we were out the door. In the courtyard, the Blabbermouth pointed out a part of the facade where the heads of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were installed where two gargoyles might be. Larry said, “How tragic!” and I said, “Photo op!” and zoomed in with my camera. At least the Blabbermouth proved useful for something.

As we left the grounds of the cathedral, he continued to talk to Mike, having a story for every single monument within spitting distance. I lagged behind and avoided eye contact, lest he latch onto me again. I decided to use this opportunity to get a few exterior shots of the cathedral, since apparently now I’d have all the time in the world. God, is this guy going to follow us all the way back to the car? Adding insult to injury was the fact that this man had a cane, so he walked incredibly slow, angering this tourist on a mission.

Now walking down the street, I looked at Larry and rolled my eyes. I mouthed the words what the fuck?

It seemed like we were doomed. Wherever we went, this volunteer tour guide followed, desperate to unload hundreds of years of knowledge upon us. But I saw a bright side. This will make a great story when I get back, I thought, and aimed my camera at him.

We were now in the parking lot. I stepped up my pace in an effort to “hint” that we had someplace to go. I walked out in front like a bratty kid who wanted to go home and play with his new toys.

“You’re going the wrong way, Chris!” yelled Mike. Now I felt stupid. I looked back to see the direction he was pointing in and headed that way, like some kind of bloodhound gone awry.

I waited at the car. Any second, we’d be saying goodbye to this stalker and pile in the car, three doors slamming in tandem. I couldn’t believe that my little inner joke had proved true. He really did follow us all the way to our car.

After an eternity, we were able to get into the car. I locked my door, in case the man decided he was going to follow us home, maybe try to have dinner with us.

As we pulled away, Mike said, “I thought he’d never take the hint!” The fallout from this encounter then reared it's ugly head. "Looks like we're not going to make it to the castle," said Mike. Had I been driving, I’d have made a beeline for that chatterbox and smashed the accelerator.

In the backseat, I silently fumed. And then I thought, I’ll never lag behind again. And I need to practice my Russian accent.

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