Friday, November 7, 2008

On Friday night my parents arrived, and later so did Giancarlo, Lucinda and little Livia. It's hard to remember George being as small as that, or as quiet, but Livia is a happy little soul.

We ended up chatting until about 3;30 am.

Although Friday was George's birthday, we celebrated on Saturday with a trip to the London aquarium

A trip out with Sally and coin’s 4 boys always feels a bit like a juggling act. There's always the feeling that however many adults there are, it's not enough and we're constantly on the brink of loosing one or two of the children. This Time Kieran provided a distraction by an unprovoked rugby tackle on Ethan. There's an ongoing primeval dispute between the two oldest boys. if they were any other species one of them would probably not survive. You can't really blame either for the natural competitiveness that's an essential instinctive part of survival, but it's certainly tiring. One day the wider competition of the world will kick in and they'll probably become an inseparable team.

In the meantime, the attack distracted everyone for long enough for Donavan to wander off into the crowds around the London Eye. Eventually we got to the more controlled environment of the aquarium and it was less of a problem. Kieran carried George around most of the tanks and he loved it, but in the melee I ended up rather neglecting Mum and Dad's needs.

After the aquarium it was back to ours for cake and champagne. I put George to bed, gave him his milk and waited for him to drift off to sleep - Saying goodbye to him on his first birthday knowing I'm not going to see him for a week (not a long time, but the longest I've been away from him in the last year). Lisa's feeling a lot less ill, but I didn't want to leave her either...

As I type this I'm somewhere over the Atlantic and it doesn't look like the journey I started in a taxi at 4:30am is going to be an easy one. The clerk at check in looked through my travel itinerary and shook his head "you should change your travel agent" he said.

Anyway, the flight information boards weren’t working so Heathrow was full of bleary eyed passengers wandering aimlessly about, but after a change of plain and some trouble with the doors, we finally left 2 hours late. Meaning the trek across Washington to get my connecting flight from a different airport is probably going to be in vain.

It looks like I'll miss my flight and I've no idea how I'll get t Cancun. Given that I'm supposed to have a meeting as soon as I arrive, things are looking a little tricky. Oh,, and the flights are with different airlines so my current carrier will probably wash their hands of me in Washington.

The airline as always forgot I was a vegetarian, but as always, they found something for me anyway. Consequently breakfast was a Muslim meal. Hurrah for religious inclusive.

I'm very impressed with United Airlines. They didn’t abandon me in Washington. As soon as I found their counter they looked for the first way to get me to Cancun, quickly realised it wouldn't be until tomorrow, put me up in a hotel, got me a meal voucher and organised a cab to get me back to the airport for my 6am flight the following morning.

I'd have expected this if I'd been flying United all the way, but my connection was with a different carrier in a different airport, so the fact that they just dealt with it without hassle was a welcome surprise.

Customs was a bit odd - the guy took my passport and papers made me scan my fingerprint and have my photo taken and then handed everything back to me. A few minutes later in the toilet while waiting for my bags, the same officer approached me and asked to see my passport again. I opened it and it was someone else’s. I checked my pockets and found I was carrying my passport as well.

The guy must have kept the previous visitor's passport and handed it to me along with my own... for all I know he's also registered my photo and fingerprint on her details or vice versa...

Anyway, I thought I might wander over to the Smithsonian while I was in town... but this is America and nobody wanders anywhere. The hotel was far from the centre and all I managed to do was have a nice dinner in the restaurant and go to bed at about 8pm in time for my 3:30 wake up call.

I did turn the news on for the latest on the election and saw an unsettled looking McCain protesting that his campaign was still viable... It looks like Obama will win - which looks like a surprisingly good choice by the voters... I flicked through a few other news channels - I think my hotel was for businessmen as it only seemed to have news (and pay per view porn).

I thought the Simpson's newsreader, Kent Brockman was a caricature, but he's pretty representative of US journalism from what I saw.

From Washington to a very cold Chicago on an early flight, and then a connection to Cancun. Chicago airport is huge - big enough to make a good home for a Brachiosaurus - the tallest, heaviest dinosaur known. I can say this with a fair degree of confidence because there's one - or at least the full size replica skeleton of one - standing in the arrivals hall. Very impressive. it's an advert for the museum which also houses Sue - the world's most complete (and expensive) Trex.

The epic scale is even more in evidence outside. On the way in, we seemed to taxi for ages. And because I had a window seat, I could see we made a complete circuit of the huge airport, joining a long traffic jam of planes. Eventually our sarcastic pilot gave us the reason. New contracts had meant all the air traffic control staff had left, so the airport was in the hands of trainees who didn't know their way around the place.

For miles outside Chigago. the landscape is gridded. Sliced by perfectly straight roads into identically sized squares. Each square is given over to something different - a farm, a housing area, a car park, but they're all identically sized and they extend out of Chicago for miles... there seems to be nothing truly wild in this landscape - even as the towns give way to countryside, it's still just squares of different crops all the way out until you reach the messy border between land and water that I assume is the Mississippi delta.

I was met at the airport by the brand new wife of enrico through who I've been mainly working on the animation and the very soon to be wife of Jake the American Fossil hunter. Their wedding will take place apparently at Carlo's new hotel complex in five days time.

We drove out of Cancun to the resort and trilobite museum and I quickly realised what a project Carlo was involved in. The resort is far from finished. In fact the main lobby is pretty much a building site.

As for the museum, it's being worked on constantly by Jake, Enrico and their partners - who seem to have been completely sucked into the project. Enrico I'm told has barely left the museum all week.

The museum itself is not huge. It would take about 2 minutes to walk through, or 15 if you stopped and read everything. Nevertheless, it contains probably the best collection of trilobite fossils in the world.

Enrico is tall, Italian and the intellectual of the group. Jake is a cross between Indiana Jones and a Hollywood dealmaker, who travels the world unearthing and selling fossils, working with museums and private collectors like Carlo.

Carlo soon put in an appearance. He's quite a character, who lives with both feet on the accelerator and everyone around him is sucked into the vortex of whatever project he thinks up next. When Carlo wants to do something, I'm told it gets done - and I don't doubt it.

I've got a lot of time for people like that, but I realise that they can be dangerous too... You have to be careful not to loose sight of your own needs in their enthusiasm. but it's hard not to respect someone who's seen an alligator infested swamp smelling of bad eggs and built paradise there.

It's not eco friendly but you've got to admire his vision.

This is his third hotel complex. I'm staying in his second - just down the beach - it's an all inclusive luxury resort with fine dining and free drinks served by "beach butlers" Nice.

what's Carlo got planned for me? well, he's got an idea for a documentary series which basically involves visiting the world's most significant fossil beds on a series of five day expeditions. The three of them certainly have the characters to turn this into an interesting series, but it's a big project and my part in it would be demanding....

In the evening we all went into Cancun town - about half an hour's drive through the foul smelling swamp. Carlo took us to a steak house (I don't think he'd understand vegetarianism) but they did tuna steaks (very well). As an initiation the men all had to eat whole chillies. Oh joy.

it’s clear to me that Jake, Enrico and Carlo's partners (who are all with us) have become very involved - they all seem to have been digging in deserts despite the fact that none have chosen palaeontology as their passion.

Later we had tequila back at the resort before finally falling into bed at 12~30... a long day which didn't stop me waking up at 3 next morning.


Carlo meets us for breakfast at 8 and we're taken back to the museum to talk more. Carlo is spending a lot of time with us considering he's got a wedding in his unfinished hotel in five days (he's not only hosting, he's also the padre)

He's as busy as you'd expect but seems to take it all in his stride. I don't think this is going to be a relaxing break....
Ok, it looks like this documentary is going ahead. 2 weeks in February we're heading for Vegas - or at least the desert around Vegas. "What Carlo wants, Carlo gets" is a phrase I hear a lot around here. Carlo is an Italian who turned up in Cancun 15 years ago to open a dive shop. He's certainly done well for himself.

At lunch we ordered a dish which wasn't on the menu - called, in typical style, pasta Kier (Carlo's surname). It’s actually a traditional Italian dish, only with far more chillies (because if you don't eat very hot food you're not a "real man").

In the meantime, Guests are starting to gather for the wedding. First, a surfer dude and his girlfriend appear. They fit the stereotype so well that it's hard to believe I'm not watching one of those Californian beach movies. When I say I've never skied they look at me as if I must be from another planet. Still, they're nice enough.

Later, Dave the preparer turns up. A retired teacher, Dave's the guy who turns the finds from marks in the rock into beautiful intricate fossils. He spends his time with a .1mm sandblaster carving away the rock to reveal the creature within it. It's somewhere between dentistry and sculpture. He lives next door to Alaska and smokes his own salmon.

I hope Dave can be in the film. He’ll bring some careful sanity to proceedings.

Enrico and his wife should have flown back to Belgium but their plane was delayed so they joined us for dinner. The restaurant we ate at had three different menus - one serving only lobster. Mine was a stew in which pieces of bacon appeared unannounced (I of course ate them anyway - out of a mixture of politeness and the fact that it tasted good).


I suggested a few ideas for the film to Carlo and one of them involved a pre-expedition meeting. Carlo decided instantly that today would be the best time to start filming... I guess that was predictable.

He found me a tripod and two extra cameras, but then was so busy we couldn't actually have the meeting. I'm not unhappy because the museum is so noisy with all the building works and its acoustics so bad that with my one microphone, covering a meeting would be very tough.

Anyway, I now have to think of what I can shoot while I'm here without relying on Carlo - or at least by taking into account the fact that he's only ever around randomly (and at mealtimes).

It turns out Carlo 15 years ago bought up a whole strip of swamp along the coast at next to nothing. Now he owns a string of hotels. the new one has 500 rooms and there are 400 people working on site in the run-up to opening. However, his office contains two desks and a computer - and he's rarely there. He seems to run the whole show from an iphone. He's involved at every level from installing the lighting to putting the pictures up.

More guests are arriving for the wedding all the time. The free bar is taking its toll of most of them. Enrico and his wife made their way reluctantly to the airport last night. It's a shame I couldn't have done any filming of him, but it'll work out somehow.


The meeting still hasn't happened, and with the wedding approaching it's looking less likely. There are too many agendas around here already without me trying to have one too. I've abandoned trying to organise things for a policy of simply taking the camera everywhere and being prepared for whatever happens.

So I managed to film a little of Dave repairing some of the specimens that were damaged in the building site that is the hotel.

The hotel is pretty much finished now - the roof did cave in in the morning and there was water dripping from the light fittings, but by the afternoon it was all repaired and the wedding guests moved in.

Jake's business partner turned up too – Jason, another digger who will probably be on the expedition. He explained to me over dinner that he has very dense bones so needs to eat a lot. mind you, he'd drunk a lot too by then.

Dinner was in the brand new restaurant in the brand new resort, and the chef was doing his first service - 60 guests all appearing at once, so there was no menu - spaghetti carbonara for everyone. I ate it - after all, in Italian meat cut up small counts as vegetarian food... besides, I too have dense bones.

I also met Jake's Dad. I liked him a lot despite the fact that he's a rampant republican and supports America’s foreign policy. We had quite a political discussion - mainly about American healthcare (he's an anesthesiologist).

I'm missing Lisa and George a lot. Everyone here knows everyone else and although they're doing their best to include me, I end up as a spare part a lot of the time.


Went for a snorkel in the morning, but there wasn't much to see. Then I walked over to the new resort along the beach. Between the two complexes is a third which was built by Carlo and then sold to another company. It's now called Desire and is a naturist/swingers resort. The beach was lined with fat naked Americans.

Grabbed an interview with Carlo in the museum. There's still a lot of noise going on there but I think it may be usable. I also managed to interview Jake, but the meeting I really want to cover looks as unlikely as ever.

Later I was moved over to the newly opened complex. My new room has a hot tub and a large screen TV. However, the TV isn't connected yet and neither is the hot water. The restaurants here are just running in too so they don't have choices, just set meals, and there's nowhere else to go, the resort is surrounded by mangrove swamps. I've come to the conclusion that it's not viable to be vegetarian here. If I want to eat, I have to eat what I'm given.

The evening is Jake's stag night, which involves Jason, his digging partner ordering tequila and whiskey shots throughout the night. whilst watching a display of world dancing in the Mohita lounge and listening to a band of big hatted Mexicans playing La bomba around our table at the Tapas restaurant

I'm not 25 anymore and I can see where this is going and rather than argue, I quickly pour each tequila shot away before the toast is drunk. Consequently I remain relatively sober. Which is lucky because when most of the party disappear off to the Desire camp, I remain behind and help Dave and his wife get Jason who's completely drunk by now despite his dense bones back to his hotel room (where his key doesn't work, so I have to get him a new one.

The new resort is clearly having a few teething problems, but not any more than you'd expect. My alarm clock goes off at 3am and again hat half past. I eventually pull its plug out.

The day of the wedding. There's not a lot going on around the site today. The problems with the water have persisted and almost everyone seems to be having trouble.

I eventually get an interview with the dense boned Jason who comes from a family of trilobite diggers. The meeting with Carlo hasn't taken place and I'm loosing hope that it will.

The wedding itself takes place on the roof of one of the apartment blocks as the sun goes down. Carlo is the padre and Jake and Stacy are duly married. It's actually a sweet ceremony which seems to take place without anyone getting stressed or apparently organising anything.

Afterwards we have drinks on the beach accompanied by the Mexican band and for some reason a donkey which the Americans take turns in being photographed next to wearing big hats.

The tables at the reception were of course different trilobites. Carlo explains that the open area the reception was held in was going to be a garden until he went out and drew a large circle in the ground . I get the feeling that much of the architect's plans for the place were revised on the fly by Carlo. He tells me that by being involved in every level of the hotel he saved $27,000,000 on the price.

I grab video messages from thee guests for the couple - which I'll have to edit later, then grab a whiskey with Dave and his wife before going to bed.


At breakfast I meet Jake’s Dad, the Rampant republican again. It turns out that he's not too convinced by global warming. However. I'm surprised to find he does humanitarian work in Peru. He's an anesthesiologist and helps out in hospitals there every year.

I'm determined to make this planning meeting for the vegas trip happen before I leave. if the film is going to work it'll be a useful starting point. Carlo has said he'll make some time this morning, but there's a problem. The water is off again and it turns out there's something big wrong with the whole water system for the entire resort. The system can't handle the 150 guests here now, and they're booked for 400 by the end of the year. Carlo is in meetings with plumbers.

In the end I pretty much give up, and start grabbing interviews with people about how things seem to get done without prior planning. Carlo, it appears just says "let's go" and everyone goes.

That’s one thing about documentary making – there’s a conflict between shooting what you think is what’s happening and shooting what does actually happen. Part of me says that there must be planning for a trip like this, and I ought to film it. The other part says if they’re not organising a meeting, trying to set one up is false – maybe there is no plan and trying to create one is my doing…

Eventually with about half an hour to go before I leave, Carlo turns up and we have the meeting. However, it's a little forced - possibly because it’s not a meeting they’d normally have – possibly not…

I say my goodbyes and get a cab to the airport. When I get there I find my watch is wrong and Carlo's estimation of check in times is a little optimistic. Check-in is closed. I'm half an hour late and have to run for my plane. I'm less than surprised. Order is the Mexican word for Chaos.

I end up getting my holiday gifts from Chicago airport – I’ve gone the whole week without finding a shop that sells anything.

by the way, didn't all aeroplanes used to provide sick bags? They don't now – not that I need one, but did air sickness just disappear when everyone started taking regular flights? Was it a psychological thing that we all just got over suddenly when everyone stopped talking about it?

Back home

Back home, I arrive at the airport to meet Lisa and George. It’s lovely to see them both again. George seems pleased to see me – I’d wondered if he’d take a while to remember who I was, but he knows immediately.

Lisa has had a busy week, and she’s been feeling ill too. I’ve been busy, but it feels like time off – she needs some now.

The prospect of the Vegas trip seems to have gone down well – since while I’m breaking stones and sleeping in the freezing desert, she, George and Sam are going to live it up on the Vegas strip.

A couple of days later, and I’m back into the swing of work. I’ve got one big deadline – an animation of Stafford Castle – but there are another two or three waiting in the wings. That said, things aren’t nearly as busy as they were before I went and soon, I hope to have things a little more balanced.

When I heard the news that Obama had been elected, US president, it was mostly a feeling of relief – pretty much as I guess the rest of the world was feeling. But later on, watching the news, it was really quite moving. The general point of most of the coverage was that this is something even the republicans will eventually feel proud of – that America is a different country now. I think of Jake’s Dad. I don’t think he’ll be feeling proud just now. Maybe in a few years.

We take George to fireworks at Brockwell park on Wednesday, and he absolutely loves it. None of the explosions bother him. He just points and giggles through the whole thing.

We were going to light sparklers, but as we were lighting them, a security guard rushed up to us and stuck his face in the firework to blow out the match.

Apparently health and safety had decreed there be no sparklers. However, I can’t help thinking that his attempt to blow them out was more dangerous than anything I’ve ever seen anyone do with a firework.

While I was away, Mum had her operation – which has apparently worked out well – and she’s now back home. She’s got to spend 3 months in a cast – which I suppose was predictable, but not fun. Ironically, this means the shower room which was such a struggle to build in time, won’t now be used for months… oh, well…

1 comment:

Pietro said...

Have you noticed that Obama's actchphrase is the same as Bob the Builder's? Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!

Cancun sounded fun & glad your mum's op has gone OK