Thursday, September 19, 2013

An English Interlude

A red doubledecker bus just crawled past the hotel; its brakes squealed at the corner like a crypt door opening

It rained today.  It has rained every day since we got here.  I now understand why people used to have sun gods. I am now treating any of its appearances like minor miracles. 

I am in London with D.  She is starting a master's program at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.  To get to class she walks by a church that was built in 1850.

We have been looking for a place for D to live, so we have been bouncing all over Greater London.  Mostly in zones 1 and 2, a bit in 3.  It has been an educational experience.  10 days ago I was looking at a map of London, thinking "oh god." Now you can tell me a postal code and I can tell you what part of a city map you should be looking at.  I have ridden, at least once, on every Underground line except for the Victoria.  And on the Overground too.  In one day we went from Shepherd's Bush to Kensington to Stratford to Kennington to Euston Square/King's Cross and back to Shepherd's Bush. 

We found her a room finally.  After much stress.  She pays 125 pounds a week for it.  This works out to roughly 800 dollars a month.  A one bedroom flat starts at maybe $1200 a month. 

We're staying in Shepherd's Bush, mostly cause it was the cheapest hotel we could find and still be sort of near the center of the city.  It is a multicultural area.  I think I hear Arabic more than English on the street.  We eat at this little Arabic cafe every morning for breakfast.  It is so good.  

I used to think London fog was romantic and mysterious, now, without the sun, I wilt. Thanks, Africa.  I only packed t-shirts, jeans, and sandals to come here.  Mostly because I did not own anything else.  D made me go shopping.  I have worn shoes for 5 days straight.  And a sweater.  Who knew 60 was so freaking cold?

Getting to London included taking a train from Chicago to Detroit.  I rolled past miles upon miles of the ruins of the American dream.  Empty, rusted hulks of factories and steel mills standing as silent, shrieking memorials to the almighty corroding dollar and Moloch.  Here, I stared down solid rows of houses built for factory workers during the Industrial revolution.  Blank windows that have been staring at each other for hundreds of years.  Or scuff my feet on cobblestones that count their ages by monarchs. The buildings here exude a kind of ancient, world-weary nonchalance.  Or at least that's how it seems to an American who thinks "old" is the number of centuries he can count on one hand.  American exceptionalism is such a crock.

We stopped in a pub in Blackfriers.  Aside from the suits whining about the temperature of their Guinness, it was great.

I love London, aside from being cold.  There is always something different to think about here. 

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