Minor Miracles

I don’t expect whatever spiritual energy there is (call it god or the force, or gumby, I’m not really sure and I’m unattached to the particulars) to act or intervene in my favor in practical ways. But my faith has been tested (perhaps strengthened) recently, with a series of minor, but delightful surprises. I’m feeling, let’s say, the presence of angels at work in my life, in silly, but nice ways. Makes me feel grateful and a bit ungracious for not praying/meditating more. At least I have the presence of mind to take note of these moments of beauty.  Here goes, my gentle thanks to the great unknown for my relentless luck of late. Some agents of fate, as a matter of fact all agents of fate, have kindly faces and are mere mortals.

1. Two today: 1. Right after I realized I had a headache, one of the wonderful Post-Docs dropped off a gift for me: special combs from China that are supposed to stimulate the scalp, improving cranial blood flow, and averting headaches. 2. I broke off a chunk of molar/filling in the UK and was walking around with a giant groovy cavern in my back tooth. I went to the dentist today, steeling myself for a gory Novocain plus drool and blood extravaganza, but no! Nothing.  A little white filling and some lights was all. No numbing at all. No drooling sips on water for hours afterwards. Just walk in, walk out, all smiles.

2. One yesterday: All trains to Heathrow from Green Park tube were stopped at Hammersmith. We were warned there were no trains to the airport. We stayed on the tube, feeling worried and hopeful that the kindly tube staff would concoct a solution for our dilemma at terminus. They had! Many staff members were on hand to inform the confused commuters and get them safely to their flights. There were even gracious staff porters for managing the steps. Walk to train to bus to train to airport, but still, it all worked out, slowly but methodically. And the security checkpoint at Heathrow was a breeze, even though I was randomly checked at boarding and my boyfriend laughed as he walked past, saying something like “you look like a menace.”

3. The New Year’s Eve Miracle. We bought, for better or worse, tickets to a Thames Fireworks River Cruise on New Year’s Eve (a three-hour cruise!). I have done NYE in many locales and been roundly disappointed by the evening about 90% of the time. I mean, NYE and Valentine’s day are inherently doomed, aren’t they? Anyhoo. When we set off for our cruise at 8:30pm for a boat departure of 10pm, we were not prepared for the rolling shutdown of the tube stops around the river. We were not prepared for the barricades shutting down whole streets to pedestrian traffic. We were not prepared for the near-violent intensity of the mob scene on the river banks. We were not prepared for boozed up British hostility –those who had decided to hold their ground in the heart of the mob. We were also not prepared for the lack of signage along the river banks. We knew roughly to go to Embankment Pier, but weren’t sure where the heck it was despite the google maps. I tried with most profuse and abject apologizing along the route to all the kindly folk we shoved aside, explaining over and over again that we were sorry but were trying to get to a boat, the crowd looking at me as if I had lost my mind. We held hands and pushed on to the last river barricade, and finally found the entrance to the pier.  We walked onto the gangway plank to the applause of the crowd that I had struggled past. We got to the boarding dock. We saw a boat. I kept expecting someone to tell me that I had gone to the wrong pier, that my reservation paper was for another boat, somewhere else. But no, we were in the right place in the nick of time (against all odds, it felt) and there was our boat. We asked, “Is this our boat?”And the friendly staff affirmed “yes, this is your boat” and we looked at the boat, trying to decipher the boarding spot, and the boat sailed away. We three on the pier cried out in unison frustration. And the kindly staff said, “please have a seat, we’ll see what we can do.” And twenty minutes later, the boat came back for us. And we got our second round of applause from total strangers as we boarded. That was a good night.  The crowd on the boat was dizzy with relief at having found the boat and very friendly. The bar was modest and the selection limited, but we were so pleased to be on the boat, everyone was in a good, playful mood. The Thames was beautiful, the lights glamorous, and the fireworks fun.

Thank you great unknown, and kindly strangers, for taking such good care of me in the first week of 2013. It might be a surprisingly lucky year.

RiverNYE

A Peculiar Displacement

I love Sumerian guardian figures–curly hair, bushy beards, wings, and I’m sure what used to be colorful frocks. The world they come from is heavy with scents I will never know. I feel for and respond to them how I might if I met a living fairy. I am especially fond of the giant winged bull men that guarded major entrances. They are found in the corners of large museums, next to the Egyptian wing–and I have grown to love them most among their ancient Mediterranean basin peers.

This sense of the familiar joined to excited disquiet mirrors a taste of my time in the UK–I think I’m plugging along just fine until I’m handed a menu — there are many expressive and alien words full of promise on each list of foods. I’m still reeling with joy at the words “Eaton Mess” which is apparently a delicious meringue concoction.

I’ve tasted piccalilli (which sounds like a toy and a flowering edible vegetable to me). There was a dessert in a Bath pub I wish I’d obtained the spelling for–I can only reconstruct the sound of the word loosely as Belzebub. It had brandied prunes over some sweet cream or pudding.

I’ve had the joy of following two wonderful guides around–a Rita at St Paul’s and a John in Bath and they let me peer obliquely at ancient British mores — the mix of the proper and the improper which is reproduced with other angles and overtones in the American lands I inhabit. I love the colors and the tea and the sly whimsy and humor of these folks in their gray misty lands.

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A friend of mine aptly pointed out today that what we deem exotic can be found anywhere–true enough. Oh the lovely unknown.

Dream Cities

I have been to London. But I have spent far more time in the London of my mind, which has been richly fed by many-faced narratives. That London was nourished by children’s tales where bears roam train stations, children fly out the window, and there are suburbs named Narnia and the Shire. I am simultaneously full of London at War–Churchill’s London, the unseen London of Downton Abbey, Virginia Woolf’s London. Not to mention Dr Who’s many Londons and Sherlock’s London, both old and new. There is of course, James Bond’s London, fierce and sexy.

London is one of my many dreamed cities (Hong Kong, New Delhi, Rio, Oslo are others), places that feel familiar through sheer force of cumulative narrative, photographic and cinematic record, a place known to all and a place unknown, full of potential.

So additively: London is charmed, London is posh, it reeks of danger and is stuffed with royalty. Also, it smells like tea. Or chimney sweeps. It tastes like curry, and fish and chips, but also of scones, berries or marmalade, and clotted cream. (There’s no lovelier word than marmalade–it’s a sweet grandmotherly jam with good intentions.) It sounds like double-decker buses screeching around tight turns and the pigeons of Picadilly circus. It has mist-fogged parks, and large black taxis, where I can sit backwards if I please.  This is a city of conquerors and immigrants. Many flavored, many tongued. It’s chic, it comes from the future, it has all the elements I most love in large cities: embracing both transience and permanence, beholden to a deep sense of place, a dark history, romance, statuary and old stones, layers of tragedy, funny words and funny habits, an excellent transportation system, a river, and good eats, and of course, the pursuit of the arts. Can’t wait! Ta ta for now.