London: Day Three

Today is election day, and I woke up in London again to sunlight and fall colors and the tap of room service delivering morning coffee. Since being here I have seen more coverage on the election than at home and I’m not sure what that means, but I do know this: the whole world is watching the US right now. I would be remiss not to say, even here, even living a dream, I too am unable to forget the reality of this day for America. But my feed today, and for the coming days, will remain a break, an escape, a moment away from the political battleground.

Yesterday began with a trip on the Tube, again. I’m growing really fond of the Underground, learning the routes and the best transfer stations. So far I’ve ridden the Piccadilly, District and Circle lines. I find the easiest way to survive public transport is to let your body feel the rhythm of the crowd. Be prepared with your card (called an Oyster card here, a Metro card in NYC) and never stop in front of stalls or in corridors. If you must pause, pull off to the side and get out of everyone’s way, otherwise, you’ll learn why locals hate tourists. Same goes for stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo, or, worse, wandering into the crosswalk.

tube

We traveled north to Kings Cross. Yep. That one. Where the Hogwarts Express takes young wizards-in-training to study. I was the epitome of not cool when we walked up the stairs from the train. However, we were bound not for Platform 9 3/4 (more on that later!), but the Treasures of the British Library exhibit where we would see, in short:

Jane Austen’s writing desk and hand written manuscript for Persuasion

Mozart, Chopin, Handel’s Messiah and so many more composers original sheet music

Shakespeare’s sonnets

A Gutenberg Bible

Ancient Maps

Early prints from China

Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript pages for Jane Eyre and letters

T.S. Elliot’s Waste Land

The Magna Carta

Handwritten lyrics to some of the Beatles most famous hits including: She Said, She Said, Ticket to Ride, and a Hard Days Night

Leonardo Di Vinci’s Notebook

…and so much more.

Photographs were not allowed, but here’s a few from the Library to prove we were there.

This was a singular experience. We spent about two hours inside the exhibit and could have stayed for more if we’d had time. I walked away with deep wells of inspiration digging through me, and plenty of notes to mull over later on.

Next, we headed back to Kings Cross where we…well, you can probably guess what we were planning to do. Both my husband and I are fans of Harry Potter. I’d read the first four before we met, but when we got together, we read through them together again, and then with each new book we embarked on the journey together. He took a class in college called Imagined Worlds, where, for his final project, he wrote a scholarly essay on the science of Magic.

Yeah, we’re fans.

As we queued up for the photo op at Platform 9 3/4, I was still shocked by how giddy and smiley my normally stoic husband became. He watched with great interest as people posed, getting annoyed with everyone else in line when they tried to be cool and not jump for the shot. And when we reached the trolley, he got his Hufflepuff scarf and joined in the journey to Hogwarts with me.

We wandered through the shop alongside the platform, buying up gifts for fellow wizards in our family and finally getting my husband some Hufflepuff gear. We listened to the cashiers— a Slytherin, a Gryffindor, and a Hufflepuff— banter in true House rivalry form, making obscure references and slaying with their English wit. Overall, this was one of my favorite moments so far simply because I got to see such joy on my husband’s face.

Then it was back to the Tube and hotel for a quick change because we had booked a fancy afternoon tea and couldn’t show up disheveled and shabby. Again, my husband fell right into the moment. We giggled and bantered, took pictures and ate too much despite our assertion that we weren’t even that hungry. We’ve been married over ten year and we still find each other quite amusing.

About twenty minutes into our tea, a dapper dressed dad and his little girl arrived for theirs. She didn’t want any of it except the scone, and she was fairly adamant about sitting on her daddy’s lap and snuggling. Her little voice in her very grown up dress, curious blue eyes, and typical childlike disgust melted my heart.

To top off our day, we’d booked theater tickets to see Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart in the play No Man’s Land. It hit us, as we sat in our seats, drinking champagne and just a few feet away from the stage, that this kind of magic doesn’t happen often and should never be taken for granted. With wonder, we watched film and stage legends, best friends and longtime colleagues, give emotionally charged and wonderfully funny performances live. We turned off our phones. We ignored the world and took in the moment and it was perfect.

no-mans-land

Then we wandered back through London, via Tube and our feet, to a little French Restaurant just off High Street Kensington. Where I was mistaken for Taylor Swift, and my husband was sure that this day would be hard to top.

Lets see how we do tomorrow?

London: Day Two

This morning, the sky over London is pale blue streaked with shades of gray. I’m still here and it is still like being in a dream.

Yesterday’s journey from my hotel began with a ride on the Tube, my first. Having lived in NYC, I was inclined to think the Tube would be like the Subway. It wasn’t and I like it better. I found the lines quite a bit easier to decipher, and the whole process a lot more intuitive. But then, also, I am now older and less easily plussed, and so maybe it isn’t the Tube that runs better, maybe it is me.

I met up with a group of writers who are all going to be published in 2017 at a restaurant called Dishoom. We tucked into a booth downstairs and dug deep into conversation. It was lively and lovely, and I was in awe of each of them.

swanky

Photo cred: Katherine Webber’s phone and my husband.

London is an incredible city to experience on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.

We trailed down Charring Cross road and broke out at Trafalgar Square, a bustling, vibrant spot with famous landmarks and a smattering of talented street performers. Crawling along one edge is the National Gallery.

We walked through a portion of the Gallery, taking in works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gough and lesser known pieces (or at least, to me) but no less breathtaking.

There was one, a self portrait by the female artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, that I found particularly arresting. She was the only female artist in a room full of men, and even now she demanded respect.

painting-1

I stopped on the far side of the Square to get a shot of the Gallery, and when I turned around I was met, to my complete surprise, by a view down Whitehall Street of the top of Big Ben. I don’t know if it was just that I’d not expected it, but tears welled in my eyes. I stood there for a moment stunned, arrested.

Walking toward Parliament feels like the building of a climactic moment in a movie. With each step you get closer to the thing you are looking for, while also constantly walking into  moments that surprise you. We saw the House of Guards, 10 Downing Street, the side of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. My eyes kept trailing back to Big Ben, and once we were upon it, I couldn’t seem to move. I didn’t try.

I stood. I stared. I embraced the utter disbelief that it was right in front of me and was easily one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’d seen up close.

As we walk across the Westminster Bridge toward the London Eye, it began to rain. That didn’t stop me from stopping repeatedly to take more pictures. It didn’t dampen my fervor for the walk. It meant pulling my hood up and baring into the splatter.

from-the-london-eye

Somehow, London in the rain is even more charming.

big-ben-dusk

We finished our night at a Kensington restaurant called Ffiona’s. With walls papered in sheet music and a country scene, flickering candlelight on the shabby chic tables all tucked into an intimate space. The patron is a woman, unsurprisingly, named Fiona, who not only owns but runs the floor. We ordered the night’s specials, roast beef and half a chicken, potatoes, gravy, some kind of ribboned greens that I devoured. It was an experience for my mouth and my mind. When my husband ordered a whisky, she plopped the bottle down on the table and let him serve himself.

ffionas

Later I asked for a cup, and we sat there talking and dreaming, laughing and thinking, and when it was sadly time to go — because as much as we might want to, we couldn’t sleep there —Fiona sat at our table to work out the bill and have a chat. We walked out smiling, and my husband said quietly, “That was perfect.”

 

The whole day was perfect.

 

London: Day One

I woke up in London, today.

morning

While I drank coffee from a china cup (because tea is wonderful, but jet lag is a real thing), I watched out my window at the rooftop of Kensington Palace and attempted to let it all just sink in.

There is a great danger in having dreams come true. They can let you down. They can be not what you thought. They can take from you a reason to get up everyday. Some of us need the longing to keep going.

I think I do.

Coming to the UK, for some reason, always felt impossible to me because it just mattered so much. It was this sharp and persistent desire and therefore I began to believe it would never be mine, as so many things that you long for don’t come to you— or, at least, don’t come in the way that you thought. I had almost resigned myself to forever talking about my daydream of London.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had to keep reminding myself that this was happening. I had to make a decision to believe that the dream come true would be better than the dreaming.

Yesterday, as our plane broke through the dense cloud cover over London, I began to cry. It’s a moment that I will never forget: seeing the land and feeling a promise answered.

plane

As I walked through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace, observing dogs frolicking leash free and children kicking a ball with their dads, hearing the chatter of locals and watching other bewildered tourists try to absorb the majesty of Queen Victoria’s childhood home, I felt at once an outsider looking in on a world I wasn’t really a part of, and completely, perfectly at home.

I took pictures of streets and wondered at the people who got to live in them.

I wished I was brave enough to climb into the private garden for residents only. Like I was Julia Roberts and Nathan a longer haired Hugh Grant.

secret-agrden

I saw a Pub I’d seen on Pinterest and wandered in for a pint and some Fish ‘n Chips.

I walked through the store that Paddington Bear visited. (They prefer you not take photos from inside.)

paddington

 

I took a picture of the Travel Book Shop from Notting Hill.

notting-hill

I was stopped for directions and ruined the facade that I was a local with my very obvious American accent. (Don’t have a picture of this, you’ll just have to take my American word for it.)

I was home and also away, the same and also aware of my differentness, touristing and living in the city, in the land, I’d loved since I was a little girl.

And in the midst, there was now room for new dreams to begin to take hold. I had jumped the hurdle, or the pond, and now found myself on the other side of an impossible thing. What more can I do now that this has been done? What else can I let myself long for and go for?

phonebox

Dreaming Of

Everyone has dreams. Be they secret and hidden away where no one can see, or exposed and constantly on display for anyone willing to look, one thing is certain, we all have them. Regardless of the dreamer’s style, it can be very hard to believe that the big dreams buried or screaming inside will ever really come true.

It’s been my experience that two things happen as we get older. We let go of certain dreams and cling to other, more reasonable ones. And we decide that, rather than take the reigns of our life and follow the thing in our heart, we should be content to wait it out, hoping that we’ll be just happy enough— safe and fed and hopefully sane— to forget that dream ever existed at all.

Often the colossal dreams of our youth crumble because we realize that certain ambitions are outside our abilities or natural talents, skills, resources or control. Things like going to outer space. Or becoming a doctor when you loath science and math. Like achieving unmanageable fame, making the Olympic gymnastics team when you never really developed balance, inventing the device that will replace the iPhone. As we grow up, we hone our dreams based on who we see ourselves becoming. It is our mind and will looking to protect our ego and heart so we don’t set ourselves up for a meandering existence wrought with sadness. Or so we avoid a stunning collapse from failure.

This kind of dream modification is healthy. A good honing is valuable as you mature. It allows the true dreams, the ones polite enough to wait until the Jedi-Princess-Snake-Charmer-Married-to-Young Harrison Ford has run it’s course, and you’ve developed the ability to reason. It allows the dreamer to live on.

The other scenario, that one is much trickier. In my experience, dreams don’t ever really die. At least, not the ones that truly matter. Because once you’ve honed your dreams — and this, too, is a continual process — if you don’t follow the path you will someday look back and wonder what if, but you will never truly forget. Dreams left to fester and rot become the ugly wrinkles in your forehead and the sour expression on your face. They make you sloppy and boring at parties. They lead to lethargy and the eventual demise of whatever made you unique and vibrant.

london

Since I was a child, I’d been infatuated with London. I’d read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden and EVERY Jane Austen novel. I loved Princess Diana, and had been obsessed with Lady Jane Gray, Anne Boleyn, Victoria and Albert, Queen Elizabeth (1 and 2)…

And this didn’t fall away as I grew up. I’m so much like Bridget Jones it’s frightening. I do tea in china and watch The Great British Bake Off. Downton Abby was my everything. If a book is set or a movie takes place there, I love it by default. I read all picture books in a bad British accent and follow Very British Problems on Twitter. I’ve researched it. I’ve romanced it. I’ve promised to have it’s babies. I even found myself a literary agent in London and somehow managed not to ask her to marry me based solely on her accent.

Yet somehow, even more than all the ways I loved it, it felt like it was already a part of me, tucked in my spirit, hidden among the thorns and briars of my personality. Like it existed in me from the beginning. From before the beginning.

But I have never been.

A couple months ago, while ensconced in the ever so glamorous task of folding laundry with my seven year old, we put on Paddington (a delightful British movie about a marmalade-loving bear’s adventures in London) to pass the time.

In the movie, the Bears meet and befriend an Explorer in their native land. He’s traveled there from London to study them, and I assume, bring back a specimen. Eep. But he doesn’t. These bears are highly intelligent, and so he leaves behind tapes and books about London, and he encourages them to come, to look him up if they do. And for years, they plan and dream of someday visiting London. They memorize the tapes. They know all the right words to say and proper way to act. But someday never seems to come. And finally, one day, Uncle Bear’s time runs out. He never got to go.

That moment hit me hard. Suddenly, I saw how fast time runs away from us. How little we are guaranteed. I turned to my husband and said, “I will not be like those bears. I am going.”

Someday resides in the future until one day it becomes the present. Until one day you look at the dream and you say: I will wait no more. It’s been long enough.

And it takes an act, or more often, many acts stacked all on top of each other until finally you reach your dream. It takes admitting that you want it and acknowledging the batter ram from fear that it will never be. It takes pushing your dream from the safe, silent cocoon of your imagination out into the dangerous, blinding light of reality. It takes guts and faith to take anything and give it life.

Dreams live.

Dreams tingle with nerves and the electricity of promise. They can hurt you. They can disappoint and underwhelm. They can end up falling apart. They are not unalterable and never quite finished. But if you have one, you are not powerless to wake it up.

Don’t be like those bears. Don’t miss your chance to go to London. Be like Paddington, who took the long boat ride necessary and found a new dream once he arrived.