The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Walking Alone, or, Natalie Meets the Dread Pirate Roberts

The thought of writing a banal (in style, not content; I'm in London for God's sake) account of events made me weary, squirmy, and prone to avoidance and procrastination, so I'm not doing that. Sorry. Bland accounts of what I saw and did are reserved for postcards. Perhaps you'll get one.

Instead, I shall attempt to give you a more metaphysical account; aka literary and highly symbolic, aka a vague mass of half-truths. I'm not sorry if this is confusing. I'm striving to be a writer here, and good writers cannot (usually) be apologists. It weakens the work.


This weekend I walked alone. I walked alone through pre-history, through the ancient world, through the ever-changing "modern" span of human thought, conventional wisdom, culture, and Truth. I walked where many a great shoe has trod, wearing down the soles of my soft brown boots a little further as the pressure of the cobblestone's history took its toll on new rubber. Bloomsbury enveloped me entirely, and I glimpsed the ghost of Virginia Woolf, running around in a watchful, paranoid manner, her pockets heavy with stones.

I walked with other ghosts in the Old City, retracing their footsteps and hearing their tales. I walked in shadows of dark alleyways, catching the secrets of old buildings, hidden in plain sight. Three devils perched on gables; a skull and crossbones looming over a doorway; two thieving mice with a piece of cheese; all recessed into the architecture, hiding until a knowing soul directs your eye. A Blitz-bombed church, left for nature to reclaim, transformed by vines and blooms into a more fitting tribute to the glory of God.

Covent Garden, with its charming cobblestone alleys, was also full of ghosts, but these, though unseen, felt not dead, but very alive. Cheery, bubbling creatures, they had no tinge of melancholy or gloom. The ghosts of Covent Garden are concealed by unassuming corners, beyond which you can hear the rustle of skirts, envision a tattered hat, a smudged smile--flowers for sale. Dandies in top hats and tails strut to and from the theatre, posh and proper young ladies glance snobbishly through shop windows. I spied Antony and Cleopatra in their ill-fated affair.

I left to refresh myself, then caught a train that took me underground. I emerged in a different part of the city, and met an Arab who was chilled, far from his home. We sat in a Hobbit's pub and waited for his friends to call. We walked to the entrance to the Circus of Dreams we were about to enter, and I met his companions. One was a small, intense, sensitive English Hoodlum. The other was the Dread Pirate Roberts, though I did not immediately recognize him. It slowly dawned on me whose company I was in, and I realized that perhaps that was how the Arab had got to England. He said the Pirate was one of his best friends, and the Pirate, in any case, was Australian. Even I, with my rudimentary knowledge of geography, know that that Arabia lies between Australia and England, and must be passed through as a port-of-call. Perhaps the Arab had joined the Pirate's crew, or bartered passage. They were thick as thieves; that much was obvious. The Hoodlum provided them with stardust for their eyes before we entered the Circus. I preferred to see clearly; I was new here, and didn't want to miss anything.

We entered the Circus and I paid for my ticket, and was inspected. I passed. Inside, many creatures, of different forms and colors, danced wildly under flashing lights. I was trying to keep myself from being too drawn in by the Pirate, but it was difficult, especially considering the reputation that preceded him. Did he really leave no survivors? He was cruelly handsome, but perhaps that was the extent of the torture he inflicted. Unbearably good-looking. The Arab and the Pirate danced in the way one would expect them to, given their appearance and carriage, but the Hoodlum was far more feminine, more sensual than I would have imagined. His honesty impressed me. I gyrated my hips, in the old fashioned, borrowing techniques from the Arab's homeland. It was soon exhausting.

We ascended from the center ring to the outer rings, elevated above the dancing creatures, mingling with the quieter, more mysterious ones. There was a flapper from the 20s, in her black sheath dress and wavy bobbed hair with a silk headband and pearls. We sat on some steps and talked a while. The Pirate and I had much in common. We loved the same bands, and both enjoyed literature and philosophy. The Arab recited the first verse of the Koran, in a singing Arabic, to us. I sang my national anthem, and the Pirate liked it so much that he captured my voice in a small black square of metal he kept in his pocket. He captured my image with it, too, and I wondered what would become of me, now that I was trapped in a small black square of metal, bouncing against his hip. It didn't sound all that bad. I wondered how many voices and faces, from across the world, he had captured with that box. I had visions of Caribbean Queens with shells around their necks, Bedouin Beauties with squares of silk drawn over their faces, Japanese Geishas in bright floral kimonos and faces painted white.

The circus was exciting, but tiring, and the cloud of smoke that had at first seemed mystical was beginning to stifle me, the pulsing music was painfully pressing in my ears. I said my farewells to the Arab, the Pirate, and the Hoodlum, among invitations for later meetings, and then, suddenly, arose from the Circus of Dreams, back to the hard pavement. Not all reality had returned, however, for strange night-creatures from other circuses, other dreamlands, had escaped out onto the sidewalk as well, and were jostling for places on large red carriages. I asked several creatures to help me choose a carriage, and in the end, one directed me with some certainty and I found the rest of the way on my own. I walked alone, again, pounding pavement firmly into submission with my strong boots, my black armor flapping behind me, holding my head high, discouraging any who would impede my progress. I found my carriage, but had to run for it. Again, my boots served me well.

I climbed to the top of the carriage and it swayed and lurched beneath me like a beast, like a red dragon, growling in complaint of its heavy load. It dropped me near my home, and I easily made the last of my journey on foot, traveling familiar paths to my door. I thought of the Arab, and the Pirate, and the Hoodlum, and the creatures, and the ghosts, but that night I dreamed of fire, and magic, and thrilling, ecstatic fencing battles. I walk alone, through this City, and even when my companions are near me I feel like the City and I are in a world all our own.


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