London Summer Evening

The thing I love best about traveling is being lost, a condition that is both literal and figurative. Literal, because I am useless at translating what I see on a map to what I see on the sidewalk and figurative because you are never really yourself in a place that is not your own. In Shakespeare, people are always going into magical green worlds, losing themselves through disguise or magic, or both, and then returning, transformed. At its best, going away can accomplish that. Certainly, yesterday, walking along the Thames, thinking about Dickens and Twiggy, and that great scene in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando where Orlando ice skates on the Thames, I felt happier than I’ve felt in a really long time — which is how you feel when you realize that the heaviness of being yourself isn’t there any more. Across the lacy Hungerford bridge on my way to the National Theater, I came upon the carnival that is the south bank of the Thames on an extraordinarily beautiful Friday night.

My boys will love seeing the skateboard/bmx bike graffitied area that’s beautifully placed under Queen Elizabeth Hall.

I am very fond of the strange feeling of being morning awake (because that’s what time it was in California) in the evening. All around me was that wonderful summer, after-work feeling, where everywhere you look you see handsome British guys in those skinny suits that you never see in San Francisco standing around talking to lovely women outside pubs, everyone holding glasses of beer.

The great thing about traveling alone is that it’s pretty easy to get a single ticket for cheap. And that’s what I had for the production of Gorky’s Philistines at the National Theater. The theater wasn’t that big, and the seat was great. All around me were (a) people with posh accents; and (b) Russians. The babel of voices was wonderful. The play’s like that too– not the posh accent part — but lots of people talking over each other excitedly or incredibly morosely about LIFE. It occurred to me that you don’t often hear anymore, not when you’re in your forties anyway, much about the meaning of life, how you should live, whether there’s any sense in making decisions. Apparently, Gorky cared a lot about these questions. My program told me that he’s more judgmental than Chekhov and that, like Chekhov, he was interested in furniture. I was happy to know that (I think this has to do with materialism, but I won’t go into that now). And there is indeed a moment in the play when someone talks to a sideboard. Or a cupboard.  Something I did not know, but now do, is that Chekhov (I think maybe in the Cherry Orchard) has someone talk to a piece of furniture also.  Who knew?

The whole thing was not as absurd as it sounds, and the actors were all skilled, and resourceful and clearly having fun. I came away thinking that one thing you should do when you travel is make sure you get in a little time to think about life.  Or at least eavesdrop on other people doing that.

In love with the theater as I am, I’m going to see what looks like a silly, fun comedy called Boeing, Boeing at 3 and then to balance the comedy, a Harold Pinter play at 7:30 (it’s called Betrayal, and really, the title’s all you need to know). After that, on to Italy.

Oh, and a few other things about London.

  • That whole traffic reduction thing? It’s working. Although I am grateful to be told whenever I look at my feet before I cross the street which direction I should be looking, were I to mistakenly step into the street, the worst thing coming toward me is now likely to be a bicycle.  I guess making it expensive to drive in central London has made the streets safer for bikes.  Isn’t that great?
  • Is it really possible that all of London is going to stop smoking on July 1? Every bus I see tells me that this is going to happen. I won’t be here then, but I’ll be interested to hear if it’s true.
  • If you decide to spend all your money on the theater, it’s still quite possible to nourish (I use that word in its loosest sense) youself, over the course of three days, for not very much money, if you got to a Tesco and buy the following: one bar of Green & Black’s dark chocolate, three pots of yogurt, a thing of hummus, six apples, three bananas, three bags of salt and vinegar chips, and a bag of pistachios. Plus, an awful lot of water. I must admit that I’m going to have to spring for a really large salad with a lot of tomatoes and lettuce because I fear I’m not getting enough veg. But otherwise, I don’t see why you have to spend your time and money in London eating. Instead, walk everywhere, drink a lot of water, and spend your money on theater tickets.  When you arrive in Italy you can make up for the lack of veg.
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15 thoughts on “London Summer Evening

  1. Sounds lovely Lily – I can absolutely identify with “how you feel when you realize that the heaviness of being yourself isn’t there any more.” Excellent.

  2. For me the best part of travelling/being on holiday is leaving all the old routines behind and inventing something new. A holiday for the soul!

    As for the congestion charge, initially the streets felt almost deserted, now businesses have factored the cost into their bottom line and traffic is creeping back up again – maybe you hit us on a good day.

    And smoke free? You bet! The whole of England. It will be wonderful.

  3. I do hope that you write about Betrayal. I saw the movie version with Jeremy Irons in the early 80’s, but don’ t know how true it was to Pinter’s play.

    Glad you are enjoying your time alone in London. Travel is like going to the Green World in Shakespeare; a reality on to itself.

  4. Glad to read you back, BL!
    I totally agree with you on the joy of travelling: it is when I am away from Spain and my familiar surroundings that I feel truly free – and it feels really good indeed.

    I wish you a delightful holiday – enjoy the Italian food, I’ve heard it’s amazing…

  5. I love your carnival photo. I have a thing about carousels–it makes me happy just to look at them. And thanks for talking us along with you on your walk about London. I can see that I’m going to enjoy vicariously traveling Europe with you!

  6. I’d love to see the Gorky play, but haven’t got tickets yet. Interesting what you say about furniture. I knew about the references in The Cherry orchard, but not in the Gorky. Still, they were friends, so probably spoke about these things together.
    Furniture was a different commodity in those days, a cupboard or a bookcase was invariably hand-made, heavy, and something that probably followed you through your life. The bookcase which Gaev addresses in The Cherry Orchard is more than a hundred years old and forms part of his attachment to his childhood, and even further back into the lives of his parents.
    Furniture for us, however, is much more of a throw-away commodity. It doesn’t get to be a receptacle for our childhood memories or emotions, or at least not to the same extent as it did at the beginning of the 20th century.

  7. Hey John Baker — That’s right, I do remember reading that they were friends, and that although Gorky worked in the furniture bit before Chekhov, he still thought of himself as the student. I’ll just say that you are terribly lucky to live in a country that has such wonderful theater.

    Dear no shower girls — how nice to hear from you! I am having fun, although the food photos will have to wait until France or Italy, it being apples, yogurt, energy bars and the occasional chocolate bar thus far.

    I’m with you there, Kate. Something about the whirling round and round, and all the colors and the music gets to me.

    Hi Sandi– Divine indeed so far. All this happiness seems a little insane, considering the things I read every day when I open up my computer, but there you have it, individual happiness goes on.

    Marta, And don’t forget the Italian wine. That’s something I’m looking foward to.

    Cam, I didn’t know about the movie — but Jeremy Irons is so deliciously wonderful, I’ll bet it was a very good film.

    Sandra, You’re right — it was a good day. Since then, the bikes have receded and the cars seem to be taking over!

  8. I felt happier than I’ve felt in a really long time — which is how you feel when you realize that the heaviness of being yourself isn’t there any more.

    ooooh, i’m so glad!
    –op

  9. “My program told me that he’s more judgmental than Chekhov and that, like Chekhov, he was interested in furniture. I was happy to know that (I think this has to do with materialism, but I won’t go into that now). And there is indeed a moment in the play when someone talks to a sideboard. Or a cupboard.”

    i can hear the laughter in your straight-faced words here. makes me smile.
    –op

  10. What a wonderful merry-go-round! Your photos are great! I hope you’re having a wonderful time. I really like your approach to being lost–loving it! It hadn’t occurred to me to consider being lost just a new way to have fun. I get lost anywhere I go and have no sense of direction whatsoever (well I do have one but it reliably tells me to go in exactly the wrong direction).

  11. Lily, this line perfectly describes what I experience when traveling: “Literal, because I am useless at translating what I see on a map to what I see on the sidewalk and figurative because you are never really yourself in a place that is not your own.” The only way I can equate a map with reality is if I try to turn it so that it matches the way I’m standing or driving, but that can be difficult sometimes. I travel to Peru a lot and relate to “you are never really yourself in a place that’s your own”–I am a different person in Peru–freer in many ways but shyer because I have a modicum of Spanish knowledge but not enough to understand much of what’s said to me.

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