We lifted off at 6:45 PM after a 30 minute delay, backdropped by a lazy sunset and the mechanical rumble of jet engines screaming into sky. My sister is sleeping beside me, her head on my bony shoulder and I can feel my left scapula digging into her cheek but she looks comfortable enough, there’s a lot of good that comes out of the closeness of family, someone to travel with, a fair if somewhat temperamental companion. None of this has sunk in yet and I wonder if this trip is too little, too late. We both could have used an earlier salvation, the slow drive to madness by ill-fitting day jobs had worn our patience thin and suddenly the years yet to pass loomed ahead, dark and massive. Sickle shaped. So in the end the idea was formed. Bags were packed, dates blocked off. And here we are, taking a good look at our lives from 35,000 feet high, en route to another country, maybe two. No, it hasn’t sunk in yet, but we’re not alone. There’s much more than just passengers riding on this plane: hope, fear, everyone has their reasons. You can tell by the baggage they’re carrying.
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DAY ONE :: 09/24
We touch down early afternoon in Heathrow airport. The details are unclear as my eyes were half-closed the whole time trying to blink back dry contact lenses. So this is how our first day in London begins, with the hesitant stumble towards the express train, to the subway, to the awkward trace from Waterloo station down to the steps of 10x Stamford Street where we are then united with Arianne (my sister’s roommate in Orange County), Paul (our kindly host and, not so coincidentally, Arianne’s friend), and the shower (a sit down contraption of inadequate dimensions).
Paul is a travel journalist and a good one at that. He has visited umpteen countries funded by his desire to write and the willing pocketbooks of the travel journals he articles for. He even did a stint in Japan, teaching English. There’s a certain courage in traveling that I’m gathering from this trip and while it is slow in coming, I feel that it will come in time.
Let’s cut to the scene now. I’m reeling after a night of pub hopping and it’s one of those nights where everything falls into place. We have been able to route all obstacles. We are back in the Picadilly (?) district now and wandering the Soho (?) area of beatniks, poets, and vicinity hipsters. The weather is perfect, an unusual break in clouds to liven up this characteristically dour London. And how could it be any better: a full day sailing down the River Thames, acquainting ourselves to the underground transport, and now here we are, all of us talking as if old friends and smoking finely inside a pub. If this is what the world outside of bubble California has to offer, then tell you what. I’m staying.
DAY TWO :: 09/25
I sat in on a sermon today in St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’m not a religious man by any means but there was resonance; it is enough to wonder the utility of church, if God is for the people or if people are for God. I believe in the former even if the latter is often implied. Sitting in this cathedral, the evidence of faith rises up like this glorious structural testament. I sat and the bishop intoned, and he prayed for the world, to believers and nonbelievers alike; it was a calling to communion to understand the mishaps of this era’s misdirected crusade and to recognize the failings of our free nations. In a prophetic moment, as the bishop stilled the congregation for silence, a siren grew from the movement of clouds and pulsed closer. I thought the noise would be annoying but strangely, it enhanced the moment. We listened to the siren and what it meant, heard it draw close and then dispel into the horizon. When the bishop resumed, our private sphere had changed. Someday, we can do without sirens.
Call it serendipity, but Covent Garden has its share of talented and enthusiastic musicians. I’ve been watching this string quartet accost strangers trying to descend the stairs, dancing in front of them with tantalizing music, all the while nudging a tip basket with their feet… without missing a beat.
Before I conclude, Wicked in London is amazing. Even though we sat in the upper boonies, the cast performed spectacularly. We had the original Elphaba and her voice is beyond comparison, far more gripping and emotional than the paltry affair that was her Orange County counterpart. While my gripes with the rest of the cast in California straggle hither and thither, there’s a certain beauty in hearing something you are so familiar with in a different accent; it becomes foreign and new and, in the end, something wonderful.
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DAY THREE :: 09/26
After the thorough thrashing of our first frenetic days, we called for a quieter day exploring the Tate Modern Art Museum and ogling at the manifold surrealisms of Dali and his peers. I wish we could have taken pictures but photography of any sort was strictly prohibited. There were some expressive pieces that really were thought provoking, precisely because you had no idea what you were looking at.
This would have been a good place for my younger brother but, alas, he is not with us on this trip. It was refreshing to see a healthy art community in London, there were hundreds of art students of all ages with their notebooks and portfolios, imitating masters and taking some works to another level. Resting early tonight, tomorrow, Barcelona!