Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Angels Dining at the Ritz

I've been in England less than 24 hours and already the trip has given me what I'd hoped for: A lovely sense of simply being in England (which still gives me a sentimental shiver), a few entertaining conversations with strangers at a pub, dinner with chrishansenhome at a fun restaurant, and several long walks around the Bloomsbury neighborhood I came to know when I stayed here for a week two years ago.

It's a beautiful sunny London morning as I write this from an Internet Cafe. On the walk here from my hotel I kept stopping to look at the characteristic London architecture, the row houses from the 19th century and the Edwardian decorative facades, and I thought about the members of the Bloomsbury group who walked these streets 80 years ago. At a great bookstore yesterday (one of many you can find around here) I spent a long time looking through a book on Bohemian London, written by Vanessa Bell's granddaughter. I would have bought the book, except that everything I buy at this point has to get carted around through several train trips and relocations over the next several days and besides, there were many books I wanted to buy and how could I choose just one?

My hotel is a little downscale from the one I stayed in last time (what with the sinking dollar and my budget this time around), but my room itself is pleasant and (unexpectedly) contains an ensuite bathroom with a sink that overhangs the toilet so that when you sit down you feel as if the dentist is providing you with a spit sink and you have to hold your left arm against your side. The "English breakfast", however, was pretty much inedible: canned oversweetened but otherwise vapid baked beans, an egg fried into a circle with much too runny of a yolk for me to even attempt, and a slice of fatty greasy poor bacon. But there was toast and butter and the coffee - that first cup of coffee after my five-day exile - was strong and glorious and there's plenty of wonderful inexpensive places for good breakfast right nearby.

The caffeine-free sobriety was well worth the effort, as I seem already to be time-adjusted. Once again I found myself wide awake and unable to sleep for the entire flight, and I barely got a nap in yesterday (my room is very bright and sunny because it overlooks a huge open courtyard, which happens to be the playground of an elementary school), but as a result I was able to fall into a comfortable sleep right at 10pm local time and sleep through without a break until 6:30 am and boom, I'm fine. I also realized that socializing provides me with wakeful adrenalin; I was worried that I'd be logy and dull for my dinner with chrishansenhome and his partner, but once we sat and started eating and talking I felt absolutely myself.

After dinner I went to The King's Arms which was quite packed as it was their equivalent of Bear Bar Night back home. While this was comfortable (the music was turned down low and wondrously enough there is no smoking allowed right at the bar which gives a small area where nothing is blown directly into your lungs), I felt a bit isolated for quite a while. How do you break in to conversations and talk with strangers in such a setting? But as the place got even more crowded the wait at the bar became longer, which meant that from my position I was standing right up near folks for several minutes as they waited for their beer and that is an easy time to say something to a stranger, if the stranger looks friendly and approachable.

But what did I find? That without exception all of the people I talked with, some for a bit of time, were people who felt out of place at a Bear night but had come for some other reason -- to meet a friend, or to tag along with a friend. I even met somebody from Perth who now lives in London but who introduced me to two friends of his who were visiting, and who gave me contact information so that I can get in touch with them when I am there in September. The most fun, though, was talking with two young cheery club boys who invited me to join them again tonight on their Pub crawl, and I believe I will.

Now I'm heading off to walk walk walk around London on a sunny April day. The song running through my head is not "A Foggy Day", or even "London Pride", but "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", not because of any particular romantic entanglement such as the song tells of, but because of the general sense that there is magic abroad in the air.
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