Sunday, March 26, 2006

March 23, 2006 London, Day Three:

My last day here. I wake up around 9 and make my way over to Buckingham Palace by 11.30 am to see the changing of the guard. However, there are too many people for me too see much of anything, although I do get some photos of the royal carriages and others of the royal guard. Today is also very sunny, almost too, making photo-taking difficult. But still, I take too many photos of the Mall and gates and the pond and such around the palace. Then I hop back on the Tube to take a dry run for tonight's trip up to the King Cross station. At Victoria Station, I see a man pasting a large mural-sized advert up in the Tube. Today my hair is very blowsy and generally unhappy with all the pollution (which, I actually hadn't noticed until today). After King's Cross, I run back down to Oxford Circus station so that I can check email at the Apple store. My feet are tired, so I walk around looking for a pub or cafe or somewhere to sit. And here I reach my folly or what I will call my folly since I think that it sound good and amusing:

My Folly
Craving somewhere to sit-anywhere will do-after seeing Buckingham Palace and King's Cross and Oxford Circus, I duck down a side street. Last night I did not follow this advice of Gerry's-get off the main drag for food (cheaper and better to be had in side streets)-and was rewarded with a passable meal, but an £11.45 bill (I know as soon as I ordered that I should have just gotten soup). Anyway, this side street looks promising at first-though the restaurants were still tourist-y looking-, but then it tapers off. Coming to a corner of a building and a jog in the street, I round the bend and there, a sign, reading "The Chopper Lump Wine Bar and Restaurant." The sign is a tented thing in front of a door with steps leading down. "Perfect," I think. "I can get tea and rest. Gosh, my feet hurt-and for the first time in two days of walking!" So down I go..Andd enter my first (and possibly my last?) English wine bar. Big mistake. As I enter the men turn and stare. I am too young, too obviously a student, a tourist, and an American. Everyone is male (Well, that is not quite true. The waitresses were female. And there were three other female customers!) and in formal business wear. My own Gap jeans (freshly bought a week ago for $15) and Target sweater ($16) stick out like a sore thumb. (side note: Can anyone tell me where that phrase came from? If someone could tell me, that would be nifty.) I don't know whether or not to wait to be seated, so I ask a waitress. Again, my identity as an American student tourist is obvious. While waiting at the bar to order my tea, the men look at me out of the corner of their eyes as if thinking "What is she doing here?", all the while talking high finance. I think to myself "This was a very very bad idea. I have intruded upon a secret bankers' club. But it is good too, because this is what I want to see." Still, the businessmen unnerve me. I drink my tea and don't look at anyone. But I listen. The conversations do not stick-grumblings about work and plans for holiday. While listening, I stir the tea. Careful and efficient movement of thumb and forefinger and middle finger. Slight turn of the wrist. The caramel liquid flows around the spoon. This, the stares, the picture of the pot-bellied soldier (c. 1914, I think) and the contrast between the creamy ceramic of the teapot and teacup, the dark table, and the tan tea is that I will remember, I think. I quickly finish the tea (oh, it is good) and duck my head and leave, thankful that you pay when you order at the bar.
The End.

After the (perhaps imagined?) awkwardness at the wine bar, I head up to the British Museum. But I am too tired to walk around at first, so I sit in their Gallery Cafe" for an hour and a half. While sitting with another pot of tea (I admit, I am an addict), I listen to the conversations of the other tourists. A couple hours walking around the museum, writing some postcards, and I am ready to leave. I take the 24 bus to Victoria Station and the 11 bus to Chelsea Old Town Hall (actually one stop past because I lost track of the stops) and walk to Dr. Fusaro's flat. A curator from the Victoria and Albert Museum is visiting and we talk and drink wine together. Dr. Fusaro's husband, Rex, comes home, the visitor leaves. Dr. Fusaro needs some passport photos taken, so Rex takes the pics, but he keeps making her laugh. The two are hysterical. He runs to the photo shop with the film and she makes pasta with a sweet chili and tomato sauce (wow. just wow.) for our dinner. More wine and talking. Around 10, I take my leave to pick up my luggage from the hostel. They are wonderful and say "If you need anything, please don't hesitate to call." I love them. The trip to the hostel is uneventful. Same with the trip to King's Cross and Luton Airport, although the luggage is very heavy. At Luton, I write a letter and the last of the postcards and drink expensive orange juice and call home. I do not sleep.

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