Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Of Victories and Mysteries

By the time my bag did not come off the baggage carousel in London’s Heathrow Airport, I was already on the panic path. I’d been fighting it through the nearly-interminable plane flights, through the realization that the man sitting next to me smelled terrible and he’d be there for nine hours. (Miraculously, my TV screen didn’t work so I had to be relocated! Hours of Bejeweled calm me.) Good luck struck again as my bag finally appeared on a neighboring carousel. All 50.0 pounds of it … which had to be lugged up stairs in Tube stations.

We’ll see if the 50.0 pounds are 50.0 pounds of stupidity. In New York City, I’d realized that I didn’t need many clothes because there was no one to notice I was wearing them days in a row. But last time I was in London in April, Sophie and I froze, so this time I came bearing many layers.

I was so brave about going to New York all alone. Ha! My mother was two hours away by Long Island Railroad, I had cousins all over, and I knew the transit system. Friends in London sent me a London bus map, which I pored over for hours, but it all felt so unfamiliar. There was no grid! Suddenly, my quest for New Things seemed over-the-top. I kept thinking no one had held a gun to my head, why did I invent this month?

But there are always little victories that bolster the spirit, restore confidence, and dispel panic, little by little.

Little Victories:
  • I found the light switches in the apartment! Some took a while. I also found the electric outlets. The woman renting the apartment is wonderful – even provided food for my arrival – but she’d departed when it was still light out.

  • I found a grocery store! I won’t starve.
  • I managed to locate bus stop M to catch the #390 bus to Tottenham Court Road! This is an even bigger victory because I deviated from the walking instructions I’d written out for myself by detouring to another park, and I still found bus stop M!

  • I gave myself 5 hours to look for Sir John Soane’s Museum before the special evening hours tour by candlelight. Turns out I showed up at 1:53, and there was a tour of closed areas at 2! I got to see his giant scale re-creation of Pompeii made out of cork!
  • As I wandered around with all my extra, unused “look for it” hours, I came upon other things on my six pages of To See notes. Oh, that’s where they are! Practically every corner has a wonderful “you are here” map. They’re so good, the front and back of the signs change the perspective of the map, too. Aha, I can find my way around!
  • I got my library card first thing! Since I have not been able to figure out the iPhone, I came across a library, went in, and used the computer to find out which bus I could take home. A #9 bus from bus stop S!

  • Bigger Mysteries:
    • Why does the iPhone keep telling me I’m not connected to the server? I have the little sound waves showing I am. I’m just fine with my little papers of where I’m going, and I can tell that soon I’ll have absorbed the structure of London in my head; but I still don’t know why I’m having difficulty. I did manage to get a London phone number, but that’s the tiniest of little victories.
    • Buskers are everywhere and amazing. The man painted silver held one arm out, grabbing the handle of a shovel which was the only point attached to the ground. He was floating! Then he spun around and resumed his position, holding on by the one hand on the shovel. HOW DID HE DO THAT? Later on, I found a Yoda doing the same thing. And how did another man squeeze himself through the tennis racket frame????
    • Major mystery: why I have not been hit by a car yet. Painted on the street are giant words saying “LOOK LEFT” and “LOOK RIGHT” with arrows. But when there are curves or no traffic lights, and you think you can cross, I am invariably wrong. Two near misses in one day, and that doesn’t count the bicycle.

    Panic has evaporated. Both victories and mysteries do their bit: the victories restore self-confidence, and the mysteries provide the fuel of discovery. It’s why I’m here. It’ll be a good month.


    1. I love figuring out the little mysteries of another culture.

    2. Just one thing about that map in your head of London:

      You may start to think of the River Thames as always being south, because that's true as long as you're in the eastern part of the city. HOWEVER – near Waterloo and Jubilee Bridges, the river makes a 90° turn! Thus, if you're west of there (for instance, at Buckingham Palace), the river is directly east of you and not south.

      Luckily, this sometimes makes places closer to each other than you think. For example, I discovered late in my four months in London that the Houses of Parliament are a short walk along Whitehall from Trafalgar Square.

      ALSO - Streets change their names all the time and without warning. Tottenham Court becomes Charing Cross; the Strand becomes Fleet St., etc. etc. The natives expect you to know this – and even the guidebooks aren't always great about telling you.

    3. Oh! And do you know about London Walks?

      I've been on a number of them and they've always been excellent. Wonderful guides; great information. I know I got more out of their British Museum walk than I ever would have on my own. And the best part is – you just show up and pay. No advance planning required - and you can pick a day when the weather's nice to walk.

      If you're scared this means you might show up at the appointed day and time and get lost in a huge group – don't worry. Many of the guides are trained actors and I've seen them handle groups of 50+ just fine. But this time of year, you probably won't even encounter a group that large.

    4. Welcome, Barbara, to our little city! But I have to say so many congratulations about Anchorage tipping progressive on its Assembly and electing TWO gay folks! - just wow - Words are entirely inadequate for seeing this change in the world of lives once lived there...

      Amazingly good. Have a great time in London and we hope to see you soon!

    5. Barbara, I know you'll enjoy yourself this month. And Jacob and Eugene will give you great tips on things to do. There's just so much on every block that won't be on your list, but will be worth doing.


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