|12-18 August 2007|
|Sunday, 12 Aug|
|The annual Filial Piety Tour is underway. And the expected long trek up into the mountains proves unnecessary as cousin John Quincy Hemlock picks me up at Dulles airport and whisks me in the shiny black Chevy Panzer to the McMansion in the nearby idyllic surroundings of Fairfax County’s beyond-the-Beltway Exurbia, where a big surprise is in store. Since the sad departure of Octogenarian matriarch Lucy Hemlock earlier this year, the Appalachian branch of the clan is more mobile and sees fit to come down here to civilization en masse to greet me. So I am surrounded by three cousins, two spouses, one baby and four teenagers – the latter with braces, varying levels of academic achievement to report and a hankering to watch the DVD of Texas Chain Saw Massacre they found at the video store. They are also extremely keen to hear all about Hot Fuzz, which I happened to watch on the airplane.
My opinion is that this British film is basically stupid. The plot – hyper-efficient London cop is banished to a small, apparently crime-free rural village and ends up battling an evil Neighbourhood Watch in an orgy of extremely gruesome, graphic and imaginative violence – is intended to be hilariously tongue in cheek. And it would have made a superb black comedy if the directors had taken it all the way. “However,” I inform my young, bloodthirsty relatives, “they obviously held back and left parts of it semi-serious in the hope of winning big box office results in a certain larger market where the audience is not known for its deep appreciation of irony.” In short, they will love it. Especially the bit where a bad guy meets a well-deserved end in a model replica of the village when he ends up with the pointed tower of a castle thrust into his neck and sticking out of his mouth into his nose. That scene does have a certain something.
Mon, 13 Aug
While I am quite happy to relax, read, cook, wander through shopping malls that sell things people want or cycle through the woods, Hemlocks from the remote and unworldly wastes of Appalachia insist on doing the tourist thing while they are in close proximity to the nation’s capital. The National Air and Space Museum’s extension near Dulles Airport, officially called the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, is the perfect first stop. As well as simulator rides for the teens and intriguing (especially military) flying machines from days of yore for the adults, it seems to offer the only place in the region where no hay fever penetrates. For several hours, the clan’s consumption of Coltalin and Kleenex plummets.
The glorious motherland is represented by a Mig 15 (designated an F2 by the PLA). The Concorde, Boeing 707 and Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird are all dwarfed by the Enterprise Space Shuttle. Also striking is the oversize Dornier Do-335A-1 Pfeil. The younger Hemlocks, already impressed by the simulator rides, pronounce the museum’s McDonalds one of the finest they have had the pleasure of dining at.
|Tue, 14 Aug
The morning begins with the usual, never-ending question in this part of the world – is there anything to eat for breakfast that is not cinnamon-flavoured? After some watermelon and lumps of the chewy tiresomeness that is the bagel, the entire Hemlock crew heads off to Arlington National Cemetery for a brisk if not especially appropriate walk over to Bodies, The Exhibition, a display of plastinated human corpses and body organs. The individuals whose flesh, bones and innards are laid bare were (visibly, in some cases) Chinese, and rumour has it that they were prisoners in the commie gulag. So some people oppose the show with a passion, ranting and whining with great gusto about ethics, desecration, cadavers, organ harvesting and lots of other unwholesome things that any right-thinking Hemlock just can’t resist. Exploitative or educational? All I know is that some of the skeletal muscle exhibits looked almost good enough to, um…
|Over lunch of succulent, slightly marbled and exquisitely grained preserved meat in the form of pastrami on rye, one of the younger cousins does her homework and nails simultaneously. Homework during summer vacation? There is a widespread belief that the youth of today are hopelessly dissolute – drinking, doing drugs, fornicating and avoiding their studies in a way that would of course been totally, utterly and completely unthinkable to us of the previous generation two or three decades ago. But in fact some of them are on Advanced Placement, doing college-level work in their spare time at high school, even learning such arcana as the British influence behind the Monroe Doctrine. How many of us at that age could claim such a grasp of American history, plus coolness in the presence of Asian corpses and glossy pink nails?
Wed, 15 Aug
A sort of last supper before everyone goes their separate ways over the weekend. No fewer than three of the cousins and spouses present served in the Peace Corps, so it seems an ideal opportunity for them to show off the culinary skills they acquired during their far-flung tours of Third World duty. Specifically, Martha Kickapoo Hemlock grills lamb kebab – a dish that has spread rapidly throughout much of the Middle East since she personally introduced the recipe into the region and trained eager native tribesmen in the finer points of its preparation in the 1980s.
The conversation turns to Where There Is No Doctor, the barefoot medic’s manual that advised the selfless and idealistic volunteers how to deliver babies being born sideways, save peasants who had been mutilated by herds of rampaging giant tarantulas, cure ragged infants’ revolting skin diseases, and involve whole villages in fun ways to diagnose diabetes. I contribute a tale of how in Victorian times, people would treat their offspring’s intestinal parasites by tying a cube of pork to a string and shoving the meat up the child’s rear end at bedtime. The next morning it would be pulled out, covered with worms. This prompts a series of anecdotes about increasingly harrowing aspects of infection, pustulation and putrefaction, delivered with increasing attention to detail and vividness of description – a perfect accompaniment to the skewers of succulent barbecue. Dinners aren’t like this in Hong Kong.
|Thurs, 16 Aug|
|More recommended holiday reading.