Saturday, May 24, 2008

Feeling Poetic

My Oyster Card is still in my pocket. I didn't realize until today that I hadn't taken it out. Yes, that means that I haven't washed my jeans. There are so many other habits that make me a sicko more than the fact that I have only one pair of jeans that fits me well, and I haven't washed them in a week. The point is I now know that the Oyster Card is in my pants pocket, and I haven't the heart to take it out. It just makes me happy to see it when I rifle through my credit cards to get to my student ID.

Anything to preserve the bit of maturity and euphoria I felt at having been in the UK. Nothing helps more with that than my tea. The imagination always needs help, one bit of sensory stimulation to open a window for the mind to follow. I sit down with a pot of Fortnum & Mason Earl Grey, with some Pushkin blend from Harrod's, or some Twining's Earl Grey, and it just rockets me back to any place I loved on my journey. It's all at my fingertips when I take my tea.

I'm not one for poetry. I know there's some beautiful stuff out there, but you sure have to weed through a lot of crap. Any fool can rhyme, any man or woman can write meaningfully. But it takes such sharpness of mind and incredible deliberation to write words that resonate with a stranger. And so I'm very pleased that John Donne fell in my lap, because I wouldn't have gone looking for him.

He fell in my lap at St. Paul's Cathedral. Only one effigy from the original cathedral survived the Great Fire and the Blitz in one piece, and it's his. He stands toward the southeast end of the interior. The audio tour quoted probably his most famous lines:

"No man is an island unto himself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I edited it a bit to take out some of the Old English spellings that might distract. I might have intended to include a lot more of his work here, but I think that people are just too bored with blogs anyway. If you find yourself wanting more, you won't need my invitation. You'll go after it. You'll drink in every word. You'll seclude yourself so that you can enjoy his words uninterrupted. His poems are the most prayerful, the most erotic, the most contemplative, the most love sick, the most religious. Or for your personality, he might just be more of the kind of crap that you have to weed through to get to someone who writes for you.

My shift is almost over. One should never have to work six hours straight.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Phantom Limb

I'm beginning to love mornings. I used to stay awake forever at night because I needed some alone time. Actually, I've mostly just had the worst time trying to go to sleep. I couldn't turn my mind off, or I had a little too much FMS pain to relax, or I just didn't feel like the day should be over. Regardless, I think that's changed recently, especially in light of the summer. I enjoy the mornings now. I have better alone time in the morning than I do at night. In the morning, the alone time is always solitary, never lonely. It's fresh, never heavy. It's brilliant, never empty. And the tea always tastes better.

So, I went to bed early last night. I just couldn't see straight. I had taken two Dramamine two hours before my transatlantic flight, and the antihistamines put me out for the whole day. They were only supposed to last for eight hours, but they spilled over into the next ten. Yuck. I got lost of needed sleep. But since I went to sleep early, I was so able to get up early.

It seems like every morning when I woke up over the past two weeks, I had to talk myself into the fact that I was in London. This is what a boy who has never been out of the country before must do for reality to set in. And this morning? I had to talk myself into the fact that I wasn't in London anymore. Such a rude awakening! I made the morning beautiful by having some of my Earl Grey tea I bought from Fortnum & Mason, some toast and jam, and watching BBC World News. It was always on the plasma screen downstairs in the breakfast room. And then, when I had shaved and showered, I did it all over again. Tea, toast, news. It made the morning lovely.

I had to get on the internet this morning to check my scheduled work time. While I was on, I decided to go to this blog page and look at the camera in Trafalgar Square. I could hear the noises in my head. I could smell the smells. I could see myself walking the areas right where I was looking. It was like I had Phantom Limb Syndrome. A huge piece of my body has been hacked off, and for some reason, it still feels like it's there.

Some have said, "It was only two weeks." Others might say, "Well, you're not British. This was your first time to go there." It doesn't take long for something to grow on you that just feels right. Everyone has the need to feel a part of something bigger, and we all define our "bigger" in different ways. Some choose a club. Some choose service. Indeed, we would all do well to choose service. Some choose sports teams, ensembles, or casts. London, while never romantically feeling so, fit that for me. Plunged into a circumstance where there is no one to take care of you but yourself, I felt grown up... for once.

I'm amazed at how I can drink the Fortnum & Mason Earl Grey tea with no sugar.

I've turned out to be something of a novelty at work. I should say that my tattoo has turned out to be something of a novelty at work. In a place where such boldness is startling, most were pleased, some just fascinated to see my tattoo. Yes, even I am still fascinated that I actually have a tattoo. Mostly I am please to have a permanent reminder of a life experience and a life change on my arm. Truly pleased.

I hate to think what I look like every time an airline stewardess walks by. I wanted to sleep, but I was really hungry. So I allowed myself to be startled by every attendant that walked past. Eyelids sticking to each other. A touch of drool on the left corner of my mouth. Top lip dried and stuck to the upper gums, exposing my teeth. A quick uptake of breath as I stir. And quick panicky speech, like I'm in a hurry to save someone's life. Was it really worth it to make a fool of myself in order to eat? I think so. Even for pesto hummus with limp peppers and a pint-size, undressed salad.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

In the evening...

More time.

I'm coming to the end of my trip, and mentally and emotionally, I feel like I'm scrambling to think of what I haven't done or seen yet. What a mess. I knew that this might happen. Instead of just feeling (like I wrote about--that was going to be my goal), I think that there is something I should be doing or seeing. To tell you the truth, a few places that I wanted to go see, like the Theatre Museum and the BBC Shop and some others, have been closed, and I moved some days around to accommodate for my FMS. And truthfully, other than the scheduled events like the concerts and the masterclass tomorrow, I'm done. I've done absolutely everything on my list already (except for waving to a select people from the web cam in Leicester Square). Everything. That's pretty lucky considering that I'm panicky about leaving. I have a whole two days now where I get to take things slow.

For practice, I tried taking everything really slowly after The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett today. By the way, that's a really, really small but fascinating place. Apparently one of the most common--very common in fact--surgeries performed in the area of old was a lithotomy (where they remove bladder and kidney stones). The stones they had on display were huge, most of them two inches in length. These days, they can pulse your insides with hypersonic noise, pulverizing the stone so that you can pass it. Back then (oh, how I wish you could see the painful diagram), they had a tool with clamps that they inserted into the urethra--yes, even a man's urethra--to locate and clamp down on the stone while they made another incision to pull it out. Yikes! Poor guys. You ladies have enough room to pass a human child, if you need to. But shoving that kind of a metal tool through a man?! Well, they were barbarians back then. Everyone knows that.

I got done early with that museum, and that was it for my list. Most everything was closing in the next hour, and I thought, 'Holy crap! I have to hurry and catch something!' Nope, I just had to sit. The restaurants here seem to help you with that. The waiters, they leave you alone. It's not that their lazy. Most of them have more tables than you might have as a waiter in the US. But no one demands attention. No one. They even seem to consider an attentive waiter as bothersome. They dine out in order to have so much stillness, conversation, and relaxation. That's really been interesting to watch my eating habits adjust with the routine of dining out. Because it takes longer, I leave feeling more satisfied. And when I think I should be hungry later, I think to myself, 'No. I don't want to eat right now.' As far as that's concerned, all good things must come to an end--sadly.

I loved the London Eye this morning. It's been a foggy day in London Town today. Delicious! I wanted one of those days. At least one. Some people might think it a waste not to be able to see for miles and miles on the London Eye because of poor weather, but it was the ideal day for me. I wanted the city to be blanketed in mystery. I wanted London to be connected to the rest of the world only by its diverse, multicultural population. Everyone else in my capsule was snapping pictures, but I just sat, looked, and pondered. Other people need to take pictures in order to remember. If my eyes are always looking through a lens and my mind is always on what might be a good camera angle, I will miss everything and take home nothing. I think in pictures, and I think in feelings. I've tried to get as many of both as I could. Though, I must say: for my mother, who I constantly think 'I wish she could see this,' I feel so badly for all the pictures she won't get. For her, I wish that there would have been more people obliging to take a moment for my photo. I wish that I would have been able to capture more atmosphere that I could somehow take home for her.

I walked around slowly. I took a stroll over to Pudding Lane to the spot where the Great Fire started in 1666. I sat and thought. I walked back by St. Paul's Cathedral. Awesome sight from the outside. I secluded myself so that I would worry about looking like a tourist. And I just looked at the building. I just stood there and looked and thought. And now I'm here, typing away so that you and I both can feel better about life because there are experiences like this to be had in life. That the world is so much bigger and smaller than we think. That this life is so short, yet it takes forever. That we each are worth everything, yet we mean nothing. I didn't mean to sound poetic. Quite the reverse. The truth of these statements just makes me think, 'Oh, shit.'

I bought an hour of internet at an internet cafe, just to write a few things before turning in early for tomorrow. I want to make sure that I have enough energy for my second to last day here. So, I'm done writing. I've said everything I want to say. But when I put things through exchange rates, I can't believe I just spent two dollars to use the internet when I can steal it from the neighbors for free back home! So out of principle, I'm using the time that I have left.

I'm glad that I bought a little notebook at Paddington Station before I went to French & Saunders last Tuesday. It's small. It was cheap. No fancy decoration. A simple, brown cover with lined pages. I've been writing everything. I think it's my favorite souvenir because it has all my thoughts, everything I've tasted, everything I've seen, everything I want to remember in it.

Twinings has never been my favorite tea. My favorite brand of Earl Grey (I always end up backspacing when I accidentally type 'Early Gery'--always) is Harney and Sons. But everyone serves Twinings here. When you order tea at a restaurant, 9 times out of 10, they will bring you Twinings. And it's grown on me. I do love my tea, and sometimes the best fix in the day is when I sit down somewhere to take tea. It's just bliss, I tell you.

Oh my goodness! Let me tell you about the show last night! Never in your life have you seen such a show! I've never seen so many pains taken to make a show that absolutely sucks you in like that. 'Lord of the Rings: the Musical.' Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, the music and the acting was rather mediocre. But I was riveted. Absolutely riveted. The whole theatre was covered in forest overgrowth. You remember from Jumanji when the house grows into a forest? That was this theatre. They had old tree branches (fake, of course) growing over the balconies and up through the ceiling. About fifteen minutes before curtain, when staff is selling ice cream and programs in the isles, hobbits start to trickle in--completely in costume and character. One starts trying to catch a firefly (not imaginary, a real floating light), another jumps under your chair trying to find insects, another starts walking through the isles collecting their apples, and over your shoulder comes another one walking toward the stage on your seat backs! It's absolute entertaining chaos in the theatre. Then seamlessly, the production begins. They have all kinds of puppeteers on stilts that control the heads of their horses (ring wrathes), and in the scene where Gandalf fights the Belroc, the whole house, and I mean the whole house is a whirlwind of smoke and debris. I'm not kidding. You are always in the thick of the action.

Ooop. I wish I could write more about it, but my computer just gave me the one minute warning. I'll write more about it later. In the meantime, you should follow my link on the posting where I talk about it, and watch their 'Lothlorien' video to get a taste of what it was like.

Anyway, good night.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In the morning...

I'm getting so tired lately. My FMS treated me very well at first, keeping most of the pain and fatigue at bay, but now it's all catching up with me. I came home early after my trip to Dover yesterday (so wonderful to see the sea), and I went right to sleep. I needed it. I didn't even have my caffine pills with me yesterday to help ward off most of the fatigue. I did enjoy my time anyway. At one point, I was the only one in the Medieval tunnels. It was so creepy. It's exactly one of those scenes where everything is almost completely dark but bathed in a eerie blue light, and something satanic bolts out to suck out your soul. I scrambled out.

I really liked seeing the White Cliffs of Dover, though. No one tells you this, but it's kinda difficult to see the White Cliffs when you are actually walking on the White Cliffs. Yep, I didn't think about that before I came.

Libera was so wonderful. I didn't think that it would be my favorite performance so far, but it was. I can't tell you how heavenly (quite literally heavenly) it was to hear their voices live. One of the most beautiful sounds that can fall on one's ears. It brought tears to my eyes several times during the performance. Their voices do a better job at reaching the soul than the harp does.

I really hate this hostel. I really, really do.

I'm out of time. I know this post was short, but I have to go. Love you all!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

After Day 3

So, my third day here. Rough start at first. I couldn't sleep one bit on the plane over, but I wanted to so very badly. They said on their travel tips (personal video on the seatback in front of you) not to fight it; just catch up on a few movies and try periodically to relax. When I arrived, I was sick to my stomach. I can't stand flying. I wanted to yack all over.

The hostel didn't let me lock my bags up early. Damn. I thought for sure I'd have to drag it around everywhere with me. The very idea was stressful. But, I remembered reading that the cloakrooms at the British Museum allows you to check oversized bags. Perfect! I knew I could move things around.

I noticed that the British Museum brought out my prejudices. Why? I just wasn't interested in the Asian or African exhibits. Everything that I wanted to see had to do with Western culture (Egyptian exhibits excepted). On top of that, I only started asking Americans and Brits (or those who looked like Americans and Brits), to take pictures for me. I got enough people who didn't understand what I wanted a picture of, so I have a lot of cut off photos and such. Stupid and inaccurate assessment to make, but there you are. Interesting to see the prejudice so pronounced. Now I know how it shows up, I can work on it.

All the time, my anxiety was at a high. I just needed more sleep. I got it that night.

My tattoo appointment is scheduled for next Friday afternoon. Frith Street couldn't fit me in, so I had to go to a shop in Camden Town. Still a really nice shop, and they seemed a little more friendly.

I got done early with my day today, so I went to the British Museum again. I thought up the most wonderful joke. I saw too many Roman or Greek figures missing their privates.

Q:What do you call a Roman male whose penis has been broken off.

I don't like curry. It's like the UK's version of Mexican food. Everyone in the states seems to love Mexican food, and they pass around the names of all the good and authentic restaurants. It's like that with Indian curry over here. I don't like Mexican food, and I really don't like curry.

I'm getting more used to the city people. You have to butter them up. Some people don't give a damn, but most, when you are so genuine to them, follow you around museums telling you what things not to miss, offer you all the good deals on merchandise, find merchandise for you in the back, smile so big at you when you come back to ask for a spoon or napkin... They just love you if you treat them kindly. Otherwise, they appear so very cold. They're definitely not an emotional people.

I loved being able to see French & Saunders. They announced last night (as I'm sure they've told everyone over the course of the tour) that they're retiring from 'French & Saunders.' So, I feel so very privileged to have seen their last live performance together. It was the last night of their tour, and the very last night of French & Saunders. Period. Lucky SOB to get in just under the wire.

I hate that no one ever has paper towels in the bathroom. Nope, you gots to stick your hands under the dryer. I've always hated those. Sure they save trees, but they never get your hands dry. And what if I want to blow my nose or dry off my sweaty head? It's just too bad. But, on an interesting note: you've all seen the commercials for Dyson, the one where he introduces his airblade technology? Well, they had them in the pay bathroom in Paddington Station. I got to try them. I wanted to have someone take my picture, but I figured we'd both be arrested if we've got a camera out in a public toilet.

I loved the Tower of London. That's been my favorite place so far. Everything there is so fascinating, and there is so much to see and do. You'd never be able to take it all in. You can see everything in a half-day just fine, but you couldn't take it all in. I find that I get in that mode sometimes. You see so many interesting and historically significant things, and after a while, you're on overload. You can't really appreciate the significance of everything because your mental energy is spent already. So, I try not to force appreciation. I just save it for the unique or attention catching things.

And this? This is a trip in and of itself. I'm sitting in an internet cafe (never done that before) in Bloomsbury, listening to the city buses and pedestrians go by as I type away. We all like to pretend that we're tough and metro enough to be city people. We think that there is some kind of status in what big cities we can fit in with. I've been to very few big cities before, and I'm just as interested and amused as can be. No pretensions--I stick out like a sore thumb, I'm sure.