I looked around the waiting area near the gate. Had a senior citizen travel group chartered the entire plane? Was I at the correct gate? I double checked my ticket. I was in the right place. For me, getting on the plane is like buying a lottery ticket. Would this be the trip where I sat next to my soulmate, whispering sweet nothings the entire 10 hours to London? Would this be the trip where I got a whole row of seats to myself, allowing me to arrive overseas completely rested? I looked around. This wouldn’t be the trip.
Fortunately, I scored a window seat. Next to Joan and Ron, an elderly British couple. Who talked. And talked. And talked. At the same time. To me. Imagine:
Joan: Where are you from, love?
Lori: San Francisco.
Joan: Oh, lovely. We holidayed there. Just lovely.
Ron (at the same time): Really? Are you going to London for holiday?
L: Yes. On holiday. With my mom.
J: Oh, lovely. You mom lives in London, does she?
R: What do you plan to do there?
L: (trying to decide which question to answer first, as they were asked at the same time) Um. My mom is traveling there also, she lives in the southern part of the US. We’re meeting there. We plan to see some plays, visit museums, just touristy stuff.
J: Oh, lovely! You’ll have such a lovely time. We so enjoyed touring your city. All the skyscrapers, we just walked around and around, staring upwards. Just incredible, all the tall buildings…
R: Visiting London, eh? Plan to visit the country side as well? No matter. In London there’s plenty to do. Must see the London Eye. Best thing the government’s built in quite a while….
This went on for at least 3 or 4 hours, until the lights were dimmed and Joan announced it was time for us to sleep. I dreamt in stereo.
Matinee at The Palace
I should have known by the title. I mean, after all, it is called Les Miserables. But everyone had raved about it. Raved. You must go see it. A masterpiece. A classic. The best London has to offer.
So we did. From the first curtain, I felt the impending sense of doom. Bad things were going to happen, I just knew it. Very bad. Very, very bad. And they did. Pretty much everyone died, or suffered some other random misfortune.
As the final scene ended, I sat, my body shocked by the story it had just absorbed, the tears streaming effortlessly, free flowing, down my cheeks.
Living and Dying
At the British Museum. A look at people’s rituals and relationships with life and death, from all around the world. A central exhibit examined the medication of an average British man and an average British woman over the course of a lifetime. Each pill, over 14,000 for each person, was sewn into a tiny pocket on a never-ending roll of filament, then stretched across the length of the great hall.
14,000 pills. Average.
Accompanied by random photographs and notations. For the woman, pms pain relievers, birth control pills, pre-natal vitamins, post-natal anti-depressants, hormone replacement therapy, high blood pressure medicine. Nothing abnormal.
Yards upon yards of tiny pills. What are we doing to our bodies?
Do You Ever Have the Feeling No One Is Listening?
Shopping. At Harrods. Thursday evening. Special late night shopping until 9 pm. We couldn’t figure out if late night shopping was by special invitation or for everyone.
We were in the shoe department browsing among the boots and pumps. I walked over to Mom. “Hey, mom, I just saw a sign. Late night shopping is for everyone, but Harrods card holders get special deals.” She nodded in agreement.
Not two minutes later she fingered the same sign. “Look, Lori, anyone can shop tonight but Harrods cardholders get special deals.”
I stared at her, befuddled. “Mom. That’s what I just said.”
“I know, but I thought you somehow just figured it out. I was reading the sign.”
Shoot me now.
Was what I experienced each time I stepped onto the escalator leading down into the tube. The steep descent. The feeling that my stomach was no longer a part of my body. The people rushing past me on my left, hurrying to catch the next train. I tried to squelch my uneasiness by reading each of the tiny billboards also descending into the tube. Advertisements for the theater. For iPods. For banks. For travel getaways. Then…
“1588 injuries. 1 fatality. Be careful on the escalators.” and a picture of an outlined figure, dead at the bottom of the escalators, presumably from carelessness while on the way to work one morning.
Which only served to increase my feelings of unease. I gripped the handrail and continued downward.
We exited the Westminster tube station. I really wanted to see Big Ben. On my previous trips to London the famous bell and clock were always under renovation, obstructed from view. I just wanted one picture. Just one.
We noticed there was an abnormal amount of people milling around. I looked across the street. There seemed to be a protest going on. Signs proclaiming how many children had died in the Iraqi war thus far. Signs against Bush and Blair. Signs urging the government to mind England’s own business. Being from San Francisco, I didn’t think anything of it. We found Big Ben; we snapped photos.
The noise from across the street grew. I watched, fascinated. Throngs of people were rushing across the street, past the protesters, past the ragged signs. A roar commenced. I craned my neck. More mobs of people crowded the streets, stopping traffic. Horns honked. What was going on? A couple of bobbies were watching as well. I sidled up to them. “So what’s going on over there?” “Ah. It’s Waitungi Day. A New Zealand thing. Not sure exactly what it is.” I noticed many of the people streaming across the street were wearing New Zealand flags as capes.
“So they’re all New Zealanders over there?”
One of the bobbies smirked. “That’s right, love. All of New Zealand is there. The entire country’s left empty.”
Could I Get a Cuppa?
I fingered the postcards, trying to decide how many I would really write before leaving the UK. She came up, out of nowhere, a smartly dressed middle aged British woman. “Could you tell me where the nearest Starbucks is, please?” The young merchant pointed across the square. “Just there, ma’am.” As the woman walked away, the older merchant scolded him. “Why-a you tell-a her the Big-a Bussa over there? No sell-a the Big-a Bussa.”
The younger merchant calmly said, “She asked for Starbucks, not Big Bus.”
The old man wouldn’t relent. “But they no-a sell-a Big-a Bus-a. So why-a you-a tell her a-that? Hmm?”
Unrattled, the young man replied, “Starbucks. The coffee. That’s what she asked for.”
The old man continued. “But I no understand. Why-a you tell her? The Big-a Bus-a. No sell.”
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I spoke up. “She asked for Starbucks. The coffee. Right there. See? Not Big Bus. Not tour. Coffee.”
He threw his hands up in exasperation. “Ahhhh! Star Box. Why didn’t you say so?”
Sometimes, we have ideas that have always been with us, that we don’t question, because we’ve always just known it. That’s how I felt about Greenwich Mean Time. The point from which time starts. Add or subtract hours depending on which way you’re traveling around the world. From Greenland.
Yes, Greenland, I say.
For somewhere in time, probably way back in elementary school, I confused Greenwich with Greenland. And never questioned it. I mean, to a young girl’s mind, it made sense. Greenland, the big icy country, inhabited by few, the perfect place for time to begin. There’s nothing there, nothing to interfere with time starting. Something, from nothing. Completely made sense.
A friend, originally from England, recommended we make the trip to Greenwich, in parenthesis he noted (“where the clocks are in Dana Sobel’s Longitude”). Sounded good to me. So we pulled out the tube map, figured out where we needed to transfer, and began the 45 minute journey. At the visitor’s center, we asked the friendly lady where the clocks were. She whipped out a map and began explaining the layout of the area. Visitor’s Center. Maritime Museum. Royal Observatory, where the Prime Meridian was located. The Chapel.
I looked at her, puzzled. The Prime Meridian? But that’s not in England. That’s in Greenland. We’re in Greenwich. Fortunately, these thoughts were only streaming through my head and had not exited my mouth yet. It suddenly all made sense. Greenwich Mean Time. In Greenwich. England. Thirty years of supposed knowledge, gone.
It’s amazing what you can see from 39,000 feet above ground. As we passed over Greenland (that icy country, NOT where the Prime Meridian is…) the surface below looked like a giant creme brulee, just cracked, with chunks of ice separated just so. Once over Montana, the mountains below us appeared perfectly formed, dusted by a healthy coating of powdered sugar. In California, farms that were patchwork quilts – green, more green, and brown. Towns made of Monopoly houses, white instead of green and red.
I loved the fact that we followed daylight; I never saw darkness as I peered out the window.
I watched the empty water bottle compress and compress and compress some more as we descended, wondering if my body was doing the same thing.