Monthly Archives: September 2011

A peace of myself

“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.” – Stephen Fry

The British Library

I just stood in front of the handwritten draft of Ravel’s Bolero. And Handel’s Messiah. And Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E Flat. I gazed over Virginia Woolf’s manuscript of Mrs. Galloway while I listened to her voice. I heard James Joyce read from Finnegan’s Wake and saw Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript of Jane Eyre. I saw a copy of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. And listened to the Beatle’s recording of A Hard Days Night while I looked at the original draft of the lyrics, written by John Lennon on the back of his son’s first birthday card.

* How on earth did they play that? (Handel’s music writing is almost impossible to decipher. Beethoven’s had big blotches all over it. Is that a note or an ink blot?)

* Virginia Woolf did not sound like what I expected. At all.

* Even listening to Mr. Joyce read his own words, I still didn’t understand them.

* I could hear Bolero as I was looking at it. I could feel the beat of the music and imagine Ravel writing it. Did he know it was a masterpiece when he was putting it on paper?

Oh! I almost forgot. I also saw two of four surviving copies of The Magna Carta (translated, “the great charter”). From, you know, the 1200s. No big deal.

Now I am sitting in the cafe at The British Library, where these and other treasures are stored, and gazing up at the rare book archive, encased in glass and running from the basement to the top floor.

If I got trapped here, I don’t think I’d mind.

My resolution for this month has been a rather personal one, which is why I haven’t written about it. Since I woke up in a funk when the month began, I have been focusing my energy on getting out of that funk. Planning and preparing for this trip was certainly helpful in some ways. It is exciting to read about all of the things to see and do and to prepare for a two week break from my normal routine.

But my pending adventure also brought its own degree of anxiety with it. Apparently, I am still learning to travel by myself. I am still letting go of all the places I haven’t seen yet (and may never) because I spent my 20s and 30s making someone else’s dream my priority. I am still, I find, trying to figure out where I want to be.

The good news is that the funk is fading. I haven’t answered all of the questions in the background, but I feel nourished by the reminder that I am brave enough to navigate a foreign city, curious enough to try new foods and follow my nose in unknown neighborhoods, and young enough that I still have time to have many more of my own adventures.

It’s true that I am a tad jealous (ok, more than a tad) of the young people I meet here, from all around the world, who have come to London to live and explore Europe. But perhaps since I am doing my exploring at a different age, I am finding more here than I would have. Not just parts of the world’s history, but parts of myself as well.

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Local Food, Thame Style

Today started out with a hot chocolate at what has already become my favorite cafe in Thame. Accompanied by a cherry and almond bar and a good book, I could have stayed there all morning. Instead, I got to pretend I was house hunting as I accompanied A on a tour of two estates. Driving around the countryside is at once spellbinding and nauseating…I cannot quite get used to riding on the wrong side of the road.

We decided that both of the houses were not quite right, but it was fun to imagine the lawn parties and croquet games one could play on the expansive grounds. I could almost picture the game of lawn tennis that might have been played by ladies in long skirts and fabulous hats while the men discussed politics and smoked their pipes.

The highlight of my day was strolling around the Thame Food Festival, scheduled in my honor of course. It is not unlike the Grower’s Market in my own town, but there was lots more tasting and the addition of food stands. As one should when in England, we stopped for a spot of tea and enjoyed the sunshine.

I know that Paella is not a traditional English food, but it was made from local ingredients, ok?

Starting my trip this way is perfect. I get to adjust to the time change and ease my way into my trip. I get woken by friends who have already learned how I take my tea and bring me a cup to start my day. I get to enjoy the pace of a local weekend with friends and plan for my upcoming days as a busy tourist. I only hope that I make friends feel as welcome when they visit me.

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Cheerio(s)

One of my favorite things about travel is having the chance to try the local fare. Of course, International travel ups the ante a bit, and I try hard to push myself to seek out truly authentic, local eats. Some times I am more successful than others, and friend recommendations certainly help.

Try the Indian food on Brick Lane! I was told. Well, ok.

I landed this morning and freshened up before heading into Out into my day I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, but I have my Map Easy London and a decent sense of direction (thanks for that Dad, by the way). Off I went.

I knew I was getting close when I could smell the curry. Around the corner was a dream come true. Curry houses as far as I could see. For a girl from central PA where there is no ethnic food, this sight…this smell…it’s pure happiness.

I posted on Facebook that I was about to eat my first Brick Lane curry and shortly after friends told me go, quickly, to get some cookies from Ben’s. Complete with directions. I love living in the future. So as soon as I finish this post, off I’ll go.

My favorite part of the food adventure might, however, be buying treats for others upon request. Will you bring me some black current cough drops? Um, sure. Can you bring home some McVities dark chocolate digestives? Well, of course I can. Once I figure out what the heck that is.

What is it about the taste of something familiar from a former home that is so meaningful to us? Why does that taste bring us closer to that place more than anything else?

I don’t know, but I do know that the one thing my friend A wanted, my friend who is from the US but has Iived here so long she has a British accent, the one thing she wanted was a box of Cheerios.

Simple. Yellow. Fragile.

I’m proud to say I got a whole box (family size, even) here in one piece. Well, many pieces, but you now what I mean. It was not a bag of Cheerio dust when I got to her office.

I don’t know what it is about the cough drops, or the digestives, or even the Cheerios. But I do know that when my friend has her breakfast tomorrow, she will ….for at least a moment… feel like she’s home.

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I’ve been in a funk

but this cheered me up.

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