Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Freedom afternoon

We had no commitments after church and made none. We drove straight home, added layers of clothes, didn’t waste time for lunch since we had precious few daylight hours left (sunset @ 4:30). Instead we made hot chocolate and tea to-go. It was a gorgeous afternoon, but windy, and freezing cold. In February the sun has no obligation to shed warmth.

We drove the scenic route, stopping once for sheep pictures.

Our destination was the Roman ruins in Corbridge, not far from Hadrian’s Wall. When we arrived, at-a-glance I realized this site looked the same as the ten others I’ve experienced in-depth. My English Heritage card is expired, I wasn’t paying £4 to see more of the same, I would take a walk instead. However when I came into the ticket office a few minutes after Ben, having stopped at the loo first (too much tea), the woman, knowing I was with him, assumed I had a card and let me through. So instead of walking round the car park, I walked briskly around the perimeter of the ruins for 25 minutes while Ben took photos, imagined all things Roman, and froze.

Invigorated and cold, we left Corbridge near sundown for Newcastle, and our favorite Middle-Eastern restaurant, Basha. It took ages to find parking in town. Street parking was £3 ($6)/hr, 1 hr max, no return. We found one in front of a Subway, £ .50 per 15 mins, 1 hr max, no returns. We finally succumbed to the parking garage at the movie theater complex.

Basha is not a fancy place. No napkins shaped as swans grace the formaica tables; only one paper serviette comes with each place setting. The food here is not judged by the lovely glazes, drizzles or wafers decorating a plate, but in the generous outpouring of olive oil pooled over each traditional Middle-Eastern dip lavished with garlic. The more oil poured, the more generosity shown. We sat near the door, surrounded by framed papyri, lightly-soiled yellow silk flowers (yellow being the theme color in the 14-seat diner); Arabic sayings burnished on pseudo-cedar hung over mirrors—did they say Death to Hezbollah, or Long Live Syria? We didn’t ask.

The cook and the waiter recognized us (at least pretended to, which rendered a generous tip from our Ben). We ordered our usual: falafel for two, one side of hummus and tabbouleh to share. Their bread, made on the premises, is the most authentic I’ve tasted outside Lebanon, even better because there’s no difference between the top and the bottom—both layers are soft bottoms! Nothing commercially available even pretends to come close to this bread (get thee behind me, pita). It is made at time of order and comes to the table piping hot, inside a boat-shaped plastic basket. We ate our (very) late lunch to our heart’s content and then went to see “Night at the Museum.” Ben, and some kids sitting beside me, really loved it.

When we got to the parking garage, parking cost £5.90 ($12)—and we had only been there 3 hours!! So I asked (told) Ben to stop at the security office so I could complain, as it was significantly more than the posted rates. The attendant said, oh, we know... heh-heh... the machines switch prices at 6 pm and charge full price for the time before, and the time after! Unbelievable, a parking meter that has a known fault and these people are making money off it every day!!! He gave me a £2 credit and off we went home, happy, happy... It was a rare and perfect evening.

We calculated, not including petrol, what a simple night out had cost:
Basha meal: £14
Movie: £13 (with Ben’s student discount!)
Parking: £4
Total: £31, more than $60. Unbelievable.

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