London

To London with Love

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The sun broke through the clouds, casting rays down across the gently rippling waves. It was the kind of light that made me reevaluate my belief in God, a flood of religious imagery acquired over years of museum and cathedral visits resurfacing in a single moment. Was it the works of Italian Renaissance masters that made me feel His presence right now, or had Raphael had a similar experience to the one I was currently having that made him paint so many radiant beams? Either way, the interplay of sky and water created a distinct spirituality on my river cruise down the Thames.

It was my last full day in London, and for the first time in five days I really felt the fatigue of travel and limited sleep. My whole body ached as I surrendered to the padded seat of the KMPG boat. I was glad to be on the public transportation and not a proper cruise, as I needed the time to relax my limbs and collect my thoughts. London was the first stop on my five city European tour, and thus far it had been, in a word, magical. But also, as I was realizing, exhausting. In trying to strike a balance between the cultural, the social, the active, and the romantic, I had sacrificed sleep. But if something could wait until later, it was the last of these. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

London. I hadn’t anticipated just how much I would fall in love with the city. For some reason it had never been on the top of my places to go, and if I hadn’t had a college friend living in Maida Vale and accepting visitors, it may have been many more years before I came to the city. I think part of my apathy was due to a perceived similarity to my own country- England just wasn’t foreign enough. But the very thing that had kept me away- our shared language and ancestry- was what made it so spectacular. I had loved the people I had met in other countries- France, Italy, Thailand – but nowhere had I felt more connected and at ease than with the English.

One thing I’d learned over the last several days was that a week was barely enough time to experience even the most obvious attractions. Though I had been going non stop, cramming in as much as I possibly could, I felt a certain despair over the things I had missed – restaurants recommended by friends, works of art in the museums I hadn’t gone to, a day trip to Brighton or Richmond or somewhere outside the city. Never mind that I had been to the Tate Modern and Britain, the British Museum, National Gallery, Green Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Park, Regent’s Park, Greenwich, Borough Market, Arts Club, Beat Club, Broadway Market, and so on and so on. It’s a little like meeting the perfect guy and only getting to spend four days with him. You want to share everything with him, and know him more intimately than ever possible in such limited time, but you just can’t. You get a taste for what it could be like, life with this man, with this city. But that’s all it is. A taste. A visit. A kiss.

As the sun emerged more fully, I smiled at the memories I had created, and a tear rolled down my cheek. I really had experienced a good deal in the city. I had spent my days alone for the most part, a proper tourist soaking in Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square and a host of museums, and my meals and evenings socializing at restaurants and pubs from the West End to the East End. I enjoyed the company in both areas, their attitudes and perspectives shaped in different and striking ways, thanks to a myriad of socio-economic factors. My whole life I had been straddling these two worlds, from my childhood growing up on the east side of Portland and then attending high school at Lincoln, mostly populated with Westsiders, to my adulthood spent in Los Angeles, stationed in Hollywood but moving between crowds in Silverlake and Echo Park to Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. In the end, I’ve realized, it doesn’t matter where someone comes from – we are all humans, and we all have something to offer. It’s the differences that excite and intrigue and attract.

And finally, of course, I thought of the boy. I had met several, in fact, but one in particular, the one I kept texting, the one I spent 7 hours with and it felt like nothing. Or maybe everything. And even though I had spent 4 days with him, there had only been one kiss, and I wondered why it worked out like that. Why couldn’t it have been more? But then I remembered what he said that night as he walked me to the Cycle Hire, where I rented a bike and rode it all the way across town by myself at one in the morning because after all I am my father’s daughter. “Some things are better done slowly, given time.” And even though this made me want to scream because I love nothing more than to throw caution to the wind, my hair blowing behind me in the cool night air, cruising past centuries old buildings and cobbled streets, I knew he was right. I had been so hell bent on cramming in all of London in just under a week that I had completely run myself to the ground. Not that it hadn’t been worth it, or that I regretted any of it, but I felt that perhaps I had in my flurry passed over some of the more subtle moments, like the light breaking the clouds. I relived the solitary kiss once more, and it took on a sort of sublime quality. I felt infinitely grateful for his words, this kiss. Because I knew it wasn’t the end, the affair wasn’t over. After all, London is only an 11 hour flight, and I would be coming back.

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I have arrived…

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After an hour and fifteen minute delay on the Tarmac, trapped in a seat so small I couldn’t cross my legs, the plane finally took off. Apparently there had been some “mechanical issues,” which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but gratefully they had been resolved. I turned on the in flight entertainment, practically cheered when I saw “Lego Movie” among the options, and reached for my earbuds, an ordeal that reinforced the necessity of yoga in my life. I thought of my friend James, the world’s happiest Production Assistant / posture nazi, and how proud he would be of my straight-backed, neutral-leg position. Everything is awesome!! Sigh.

As soon as dinner was served (a grueling decision between chicken or pasta, either of which I would inevitably feel I had made the wrong choice), I downed a little blue pill with a glass of Cabernet, my savior at 30,000 feet (see below: “Flying Lessons”). About 15 minutes later, right after Emmet and Wild Style had reached the Old West, I found myself feeling really warm and fuzzy. Pretty soon I was lassoing some horses of my own, only they were zebras with pink and blue stripes, and I wasn’t in the desert but rather on the planet Xanaxia, where everything is sparkly and beautiful and sleepy…

“Would you like some breakfast, miss?” I opened my eyes to find the flight attendant serving croissants and coffee. “Yes, please,” I smiled, thrilled by yet one more successful drug induced 8 hour plane sleep. I started back up where I had left off in “Lego Movie,” and finished it just as we began our descent. I could see England! Everything is awesome!! While I’d been to London as a baby with my parents and had enjoyed several layovers in Heathrow over the years, I’d never been to the city properly. I could feel the excitement simmering in my body (along with the coffee that was jolting me further and further from Xanaxia.)

Aside from the usual tedious customs line made better by free wifi (I loved England already!), navigating my way from the terminal to the Heathrow Connect was painless. The train took me right into the center, London Paddington, and when I exited I got that familiar yet foreign feeling I get every time I arrive in a new city. It’s a bit like waking up from a dream, or rather, waking up in a dream. Different air, different energy, different culture. But same language. That would make the next week decidedly easier to get around, in more ways than one (yes, that pun you are thinking is intentional.)

My first stop was my friend Mike’s work, the guy who I would be staying with the next week. On the way there, I practically cried as I passed centuries old buildings, regretting the fact that my entire adult life had been spent in Los Angeles. There were so many lives to lead, jobs to be had, ways to spend my 20s. I silently cursed my friend for having lived in both New York and London post LA, then rang up to his office. Any residual jealousy immediately disappeared upon seeing him, and I chose at that moment to be the person I wanted to be over the next few weeks: open, accessible, joyous.

We walked to his place, I dropped my bags, and within 40 minutes I was having a pint with one of my best friend’s sisters and her boyfriend. I live for moments like this. Practically strangers (we had met once before 4 years ago), and yet I felt so comfortable, so wonderfully at home with Izzy and James. They are the kind of couple that makes you want to be a better person. You can’t help but smile and laugh and be grateful in their presence, and I was all three. A few pints later, and I was ready to cancel my return flight to LA.

After leaving them (much to my chagrin) I met for dinner with Mike and his friend Ben. It was healthy, fairly inexpensive, and delicious – a rarity in London according to Mike. The company was excellent, and we continued the rapport at a hole in the wall. Literally. We knocked on a door, a server approved us through a sliding window, and we entered a speakeasy of sorts in the west end. My chocolate old fashioned did the trick, and pretty soon I was tearing up the dance floor to the Eagles. How funny to fly thousands of miles only to listen to a song about California. Small world indeed.

I got back to Mike’s flat at a reasonable hour, around 1am, and completed my usual evening routine. It’s amazing, I thought, I could be anywhere in the world, and I am still me. Same face wash, same toothbrush, same ritual. But a world away. A new perspective. That’s the beauty of travel. We recognize ourselves in another light, and we are transformed by it. I said a small blessing, prayed for sleep, and retired to the couch. What a trip this would be.