I'm sitting at my gate in Gatwick Airport. It's Wednesday morning, I've barely slept, and I've already been on two trains and a shuttle-tram-thingie today. I think it's 8:00 a.m. local time...meaning it's 3:00 a.m. where I'm headed.
It's going to be a long day.
Anyway, I mention the day/time as there's no wi-fi here at the gate, and I know I won't post tihs until either late tonight or tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm writing in NotePad as my little pink laptop doesn't have Word.
So, you know, I'm having fun, as always.
This will be my final dispatch from London, as I am heading HOME today, so I thought I'd provide some last reflections.
First, although I've been ending with Charles and Zoe throughout my prior dispatches, I will start with them today. Yesterday afternoon/evening, I Skyped with them for one last time. They'd been to work/school, and Zoe had not napped and was exhaustedly immersed in Sesame Street and Elmo's World. So, she didn't want to talk. And,in fact, she told me that I shouldn't come home for another four days! I know you can't let things a two-year-old says and does hurt your feelings, but I have to say, that made me a little sad. Just four days ago, she wanted me home RIGHT THEN, and now she's ok with another four days? I'm going to hope she didn't really know what she was saying.
On the other hand, Charles, while still tired, looked so amazing and cozy that I wanted to fly through my computer screen, sit in his lap, and fall asleep with my head on his shoulder. Guess I'll have to wait until tonight, huh? What a bummer.
Anyway...London...that's what I've been writing about, right?
What a city! What a trip! It's been so overwhelming in some ways, it's hard to even think about.
Like...in the first place...I grew up an hour outside New York City, so I spent a lot of time there as a kid. I'm no stranger to cities, even though I've been living in the semi-rural suburbs (come on, my parents keep horses 5 minutes from my house - it's semi-rural!!) in South Carolina for eight years. But still. London felt bigger. Fuller. More crowded even than Times Square at Christmastime. It both impressed and intimidated me, and I quickly found that native Londoners would as soon knock you down as look at you. I kid you not! I am typically able to make people smile, particularly children, but in London? Not so much. Not that I tried hard - I mostly just tried to keep to myself. But the only time I've made any connections with unnamed strangers here has been with a Swedish woman on the way to the airport this morning. We were both a little overwhelmed by travel, and even in that five-minute, semi-language-blocked time span, it was nice to have a friend with whom to find a damn elevator.
Also...so yesterday, Daniel and I spent a couple hours walking through the Bethnal Green neighborhood, which I loved. It's heavily Indian and Middle Eastern, and there were sari stores in whose windows I could gaze longingly (I think saris are about the most beautiful form of clothing on Earth), the smell of curries and tagines drifted from restaurants and street food vendors, and I felt almost like I was back in New York, in the Village. It just had that laid back, eclectic feel. I felt comfortable.
And then, moments after thinking that, I saw a small handful of women walking down the street in full-length black birkas. I'll admit...I was taken aback by it, as it's something I'd honestly never seen before. Only on TV, and typically only on the news. And, upon reflection a bit later, I realized that while I fully support the freedom to express oneself and one's religious beliefs, I just find birkas over the top. They seem more to me a symbol of repression than of religion. I found myself wondering about the houses in which these women lived. Birkas do not have to be worn to be safe on British streets, so the fact that these women wore them made me question why. Did they really feel it appropriate streetware, based on their religions? Or did they have husbands/brothers/fathers at home who insisted they wear them, sometimes in the name of religion, but possibly in the name of ownership and repression.
I don't know. It just made me think.
Incidentally, Daniel had downloaded a documentary called Women, Weddings, War and Me earlier in the day, and we watched it yesterday evening. It follows a girl named Nel whose parents fled Afghanistan's wars back in the 80s, moved to London when Nel was just 6 years old, and raised here there. She grew up having every opportunity afforded to London kids, but as she reached her early twenties, she began to question her identity. Not really British, not really Afghani...so she took a trip back to Afghanistan to see if sometimes you can go home.
She couldn't. Between birkas and arranged marriages, war and women burning themselves to escape abusive husbands, she was overwhelmed by the realities of her homeland.
It was an amazing documentary, and I hope I can find a link to it to post here - yesteray I only found the BBC version/listing, which you can't watch from the States, and I really think anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East should watch it.
Sigh. I must be tired. I'm contemplative.
Anyway, then...yesterday's more normal recap!
We slept in!! We were exhausted! We didn't leave the flat until after noon, when we wandered down to the V&A Museum of Childhood, which was really cool, if a lot crowded. They had tons of exhibits of toys throughout the ages, including ancient Victorian dollhouses that were so intricate that no child today would be allowed to touch them for fear of choking, and an array of scary, creepy, crazy dolls and clowns. We had fun poking around for a while, but then needed to flee the massive amounts of screaming children.
After that was when we walked around Bethnal Green, Brick Street (I think??) and down to Liverpool Street. We passed cool music and bookstores, cafes...really, it was my kind of town.
Exhausted, we headed back to the flat after only a couple of hours...all our walking for the prior three days had worn our legs completely out. We relaxed, watched nature documentaries, and then went to a pub for dinner, where I finally had some fish and chips. Delicious.
I'll say that I ate enough cookies and fried food yesterday to make up for any of the weight I'm sure I lost with all the constant walking earlier in the trip, but that's ok. Every bite was totally worth it.
And with that, we should begin boarding soon. I hope. It was a great trip and I had an awesome time with Daniel and Zeke, but I'm ready to get home to Charles and Zoe. Aw, love...