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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oh London, You Fickle Lover

I am back in France after an eventful 10 days in London. Since I was already familiar with the city and its sights, I decided to take it easy and just enjoy living there for a little while. This attitude definitely served me well, and I can easily say that the best part of my trip was meeting people at the hostel and feeling like part of a community again.

I stayed in a hostel across the street from the British Museum, so it was a perfect location. I mostly walked around and took in the city. I scoured Oxfam bookshops for Booker Prize winners. I ate "Mexican" food in Camden Lock. I wandered aimlessly through the British Museum. I looked at hats in the V&A. I discovered Neal's Yard near Covent Garden. I went on two walking tours. I got a rare look into Middle Temple. I saw Slumdog Millionaire. I had all my electronics stolen. I went to church. I bought a wall hanging. I handed out Cadbury Mini Eggs. I introduced two French girls to the wonder that is the Cadbury Creme Egg. I had no idea what time it was. I didn't care. I ate sushi. I waltzed in a kitchen. I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time. I got really and truly drunk for the first time. There were lots of firsts.

I met lots of people. The staff at the hostel were mostly from South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia and they were all really nice. I had great conversations and good times with several of them. There were also lots of French people staying in the hostel over the weekend because the schools in the north were on vacation, so I conversed with several of them as well. It was the first time I had ever felt really comfortable and at home at a hostel, and it was completely unexpected. I spent most of my evenings in, just watching movies with the staff and other guests.

A remarkable day:

Sunday. The night before, I had all my electronics stolen out of my bag. I was rather upset about it, and the next morning I felt a strong compulsion to go to church. I remembered that there was a Methodist church I used to pass in Marylebone when I lived in Regent's Park, so I decided I'd try to find it. One of hostel staff, a very kind South African guy who I'd been spending time with, said he was Methodist too and decided to come with me. I warned him that it might be a bit of a hike because I couldn't remember exactly which street the church was on, but I got lucky and found it on my first guess. I wrote down the service time and we decided to come back that evening. Then we went to Primark, which I had always avoided and will continue to avoid... it was a total madhouse. It worked out well for him though, because in addition to getting the clothes he needed he also made a connection with some countrymen, who invited him to go to the South African embassy. After eating near Hyde Park Corner, we sought it out at Trafalgar Square. It was right next to St. Martin In the Fields, and as we passed we heard the choir rehearsing. We went in to listen and I felt immediately soothed. It was by far the best choir I'd ever heard, and the grandeur (and acoustics) of the church only served to augment the heavenly sound. We then headed back to the hostel, but took a detour through Russell Square and watched a little girl ride her bike through the fountain. The warm air and eternally green English grass made the square feel like an ephemeral vernal haven; a wedge of Spring locked within the quadrangle. The focused rays of the setting sun gleamed off the face of the Russell Hotel, and time stopped. The square was its own small piece of perfection, and we were ensconced there eternally, in those last few moments of the late afternoon.

After resting at the hostel, we went to church, where we each received a nail meant to represent our burdens. He left his in the church. I held tightly to mine, like I always do. We went across town briefly, then back to the hostel again. I was so happy to have spent the day with him, to feel connected to someone again. The isolation of Berck wears down to my bones, and I don't even realize how raw I am until the gates are opened and the balm of human conversation comes flowing in again.

There are many, many more London stories, but you'll have to ask me personally to hear them. What I can give you is a list of my haul:

Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter (in which she uses the word antediluvian! see previous post... it's quite a delightful coincidence to come across such a remarkable word twice in one week.)
The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Booker Prize 2001)
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Booker Prize 1981 and "Booker of Bookers")
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Booker Prize 2000)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Also, a blue wall hanging from Camden Town and LOTS of Cadbury easter treats.


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