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.

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.