In anticipation of my forthcoming next adventure across the Atlantic, I will be regularly revisiting my first foray into Europe and into the blogosphere two years ago through my Flashback series. Enclosed below is an excerpt of my first blog post about interning and exploring in London.
We drove to the airport by alabaster moonlight.
In the preceding twenty-four hours, I had shed my dusty dorm spring cleaning garments, crossed the forty-ninth parallel, embraced family members long unseen, run to the ravine bathed in sunshine, and repacked my suitcase (just over fifty pounds!) for a flight that would take me even farther than had the last.
It was twilight when I boarded the plane and, in a sense, I felt as though I were occupying a sort of twilight zone, as if by stepping onto the plane and taking my seat, I was leaping off the precipice into a realm of great incertitude, but also of great adventure. Perhaps I was conflating the mild psychosis induced by sleep deprivation with unprecedented nerves over travelling. Or perhaps it was just the gravity of this event – my first voyage across, or rather over, the Atlantic – weighing down upon me.
Ironically, a flight involving as little English as possible was precisely what reawakened my excitement for England. My seatmate was an elderly woman who did not speak a smattering of English. She sat in a permanently forward posture, as though she were clinging to every word uttered by the cartoon characters dancing across her screen, affording Tarzan and his jungle companions her undivided attention. That is, until the child in the seat diagonally across the aisle from hers began wailing, at which point she affixed upon him a withering glare of which I was grateful not to be on the receiving end.
Throughout the flight, the woman turned to me for assistance, speaking to me in an unintelligible language. I relied instead on interpreting her wild gesticulations, which she made with flailing, mottled hands. I became her de facto interpreter, regularly translating her rudimentary sign language to the flight attendant… in French. When we landed, after I helped her unbuckle her seatbelt, she murmured, barely audibly, “Thank you.” Two words I understood very well. Words that somehow allayed any lingering anxieties I may have had.
Sweet serendipity is sunshine. Not feeble rays peeping through steel grey clouds, but the unabashed blaze of high noon that scintillates your skin cells, dazzles your eyes, and fills your heart to bursting. And so I was greeted by the uncharacteristically gorgeous London weather when I emerged from Heathrow and the Underground.
I had to take the Tube towards Cockfosters (I quickly learned that Tube station names provide way too much fodder for adolescent humour. I see St. John’s Wood every day on my way to work. But who are we kidding here? After all, this is the land that brought us bangers and mash). The demographics in the Tube looked more-or-less like what you might find on the T in Boston. The children were slightly better dressed and better coiffed, perhaps, but the racial diversity was significant and the ratio of Longchamp handbags to leather jackets was comparable. Only when I overheard the rare conversation taking place – an animated discussion about football, and not the American kind – did it hit me that I was among Londoners.
I made it to my home for the next two months in one piece, bags intact, scarred by the lecherous gazes of only two creepy, old men in the Tube stations, ready to take London by storm, as known as shower and sleep before my first day as a lowly intern at the Palace of Westminster.
pots of gold and rainbows,
I awoke to golden sunshine filtering through curtained glass. London weather has been merciful to me so far. One week in London, and not a rain cloud in sight. My boss confirmed my suspicions that this much vitamin D was unusual for this time of year as he showed me around the Houses of Parliament. (Fun facts: at the core of the Palace of Westminster is the Central Lobby, with four archways, each of which has above it a mosaic panel depicting the patron saint of one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom: St George for England above the entrance to the luxurious House of Lords, St David for Wales above the entrance to the vastly more modest House of Commons, St Andrew for Scotland above the entrance to the restaurants and bars, and St Patrick for Northern Ireland above the main exit. Get the symbolism? Also, in one of the murals depicting moments from the Napoleonic Wars flanking the Royal Gallery, Maclise painted himself into the battle scene, holding a water glass. Both paintings were allegedly covered before the visits of French Presidents). There are portraits of monarchs and politicians contained in gilded frames, gold-leafed ceilings, Queen Victoria’s minuscule throne still sitting in her Robing Room. It’s enough to make a magpie, an antique collector, and a camera-happy tourist all go berserk.
But it was the House of Commons that enthralled me above all (guess that shows where I would fall in the old regime hierarchy). Watching Questions to the Prime Minister (the UK Parliament term for Oral Questions) was thrilling, even through the glass screen separating the Strangers’ Gallery from the rest of the House, installed after a member of the public once threw a purple flower at a Member of the Government. Heckling and “hear, hear”‘s abound. The Principal Clerk at the Table wears a wig. A circus of political animals in suits.
Of course, most of my job does not involve admiring old architecture and watching politicians attack each other and each other’s policies. But overall, it has been a brilliant experience so far; my colleagues are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and my work has been dynamic and diverse. I cannot wait for the rest of the internship to unfold.
and the red balloon!
I work fairly regular hours, leaving me evenings and weekends to explore and explore to my heart’s content. Summer always involves an adjustment period, when I feel maddeningly unproductive. I have to remind myself that I do not have to write another research paper – for a class, at least – for months, and that luxuriating in freedom should not feel sinful. In the summer, time is measured not by endless classes and meetings or impending deadlines, but by spontaneous adventures and everlasting daydreams. I occasionally relapse into hyperorganizational mode when I plan excursions, but most of the time now, I am a carefree wanderer, like a red balloon floating wherever the wind blows.
I have already discovered two of the doubtless multitudinous sides of London. One is the bustling metropolis; the other, a bucolic oasis. In the night, the city streets are crowded with people milling in and out of pubs where they flock to have a jolly good time. At Buckingham Palace, tourists jam their faces against the iron gates for a glimpse of the Queen’s Guard (and, by chance, guests leaving the Queen’s party in droves #missedthememo #fascinatorsarefascinating #plebesbegone).
But for every crowded thoroughfare teeming with locals and tourists, there is a rambling road leading to a meadow that conjures images of ambling sheep and frolicking milkmaids. In the Heath, for instance, time seems to stand still. With exploring buddies, I weave circuitous paths through the woodland, discovering a spray of lavender here, a skittish deer there. When I wander here, I feel profoundly similarly to how I felt when the lights dimmed in Queen’s Theatre for Les Misérables, or when I queued to watch Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee procession. A ballooning sense of happiness, and a burgeoning anticipation for what is yet to come.
So, here I go, wandering on like the red balloon aloft. Hope you join me on the highs and lows of my adventure!