10 October 2007

The Mostly-Imagined Real Wanderings of a Kindred Soul Abroad

For my post-study abroad writing class we're all working on essays. My project has turned into a kind of beast but I'm rather proud of it so far. I'm taking every day of the trip and picking one moment from the day or one image of the day or one scene of the day that is particularly strong in my head and writing just that one image. I've got my journals and photos and letters from the trip for help. So far I'm about 15 days in (more than 40 to go) and I'm at 13 pages. Yes. It's going to be a beast! So what I thought I'd do is send some of these (shorter) entries out into the void. They're rather rough, but I'm hoping that in a more refined state they might actually appeal to an audience outside of myself and those who went on the trip who can appreciate it for sake of the trip. So I now present my ramblings...

27 April 2007-En-Route between Edinburgh and Glasgow

I’ve always wanted to ride on a train. Not the dinky ones at amusement parks but a real train. There’s something so much more romantic about traveling by train than by plane or by car, because no one does it any more. Trains are for Victorian “Gibson Girls” with their puffed sleeves and showy good looks and pompadour hair and students going to school for magic or something and I’m in love with this train. A little disappointed, though. I wanted my own little sliding door compartment, not an industrial bit of every day transport full of businessmen just going to work.

But I’m saved. A lady in a uniform comes down the aisle asking passengers if they want ‘anything off the trolley’ and I am put right back into my contented state. Do I want anything off the trolley?! Do I ever want anything off that trolley! This is my chance! To do something quintessentially British! In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry goes out to the trolley of the Hogwarts Express wanting to buy a Mars bar. Granted, he gets magical candy that tastes like bogies, but I can’t ask for everything all at once. Thus, in honor of that boy-wizard friend, I proudly hand over my 60p and munch on the English equivalent of a Milky Way. Romance has been satisfied.

I try not to stare too much at the people on the train, but it’s hard because of the family with kids next to me. There are two boys playing with some kind of fantasy card game (Pokemon? I don’t know the difference. I should, I have brothers) and another little baby just starting to blabber a few words. All three of those boys are speaking with little hobbity Scottish accents. Two days in a row my anti-tourist campaign is shattered because I can’t pretend that I’m not totally entertained by these kids and completely envious of the life they lead. A life that is more or less exactly like mine but with the coveted Scottish accent attached to it, thus making it about a trillion times cooler. Theoretically, obtaining a Scottish or English accent of some kind would be my key to casting off the burden of tourism. I look British enough thanks to my ancestors. If I don’t say anything no one will no the difference, but I bought the Mars Bar so my birds have flown on this train. I wonder if the couple thought I was foreign before I spoke.

30 April 2007-Coach to Wasdale

I have fallen in love. Madly in love. With a biscuit. Not just any biscuit, though. Oh no. This is the most incredible biscuit in the world. Biscuit, biscuit, biscuit. It’s even fun to say. Anyone in the world who has tasted Scottish shortbread would have to agree with me or be utterly insane. Shortbread is brilliant because the full flavor takes you by surprise after you suck on the little cookie morsels for a little while. There’s a splash of buttery goodness and a twist of sugar and I don’t know what else but I can’t stop eating them. It’s such a half-guilty pleasure. I think somewhere in my psyche I imagine that everyone on the coach can see how many of these little shortbread fingers I’ve eaten and they’re all criticizing me for it. Earlier I was sharing with the girls closest to me, but they’ve all had their fill by now and I’m still peckish. So when I decide I want another one I kind of duck to the side with my forehead resting on the window and my body shielding the box. Then I slowly pull the box open. The hard part is pulling the plastic cookie-tray out because that makes noise when you reach through the plastic wrapper of the plastic holder. Then, one cookie after another, I indulge my way through about a quarter of the box. That’s the amazing and terrifying part of the power of a good shortbread cookie: once you start eating them it’s hard to resist another. And another. Eight or so fingers of shortbread later, I am content.

3 May 2007-Helvelyn

Do you know what happens when a gaggle of hot, sweaty, tired girls get together and hike a mountain all day and then find a pool of deserted, inviting, seductive water in the middle of a valley? I do. Some kind of time and space warp occurs and every girl there is transformed into a desert traveler who has not seen water in years. Clothes fly everywhere, screaming ensues, water flies, and there’s giggling. Lots and lots of giggling.

Not from me. I like my clothes where they are, thanks. And I don’t like hiking wet so I’m not about to jump in clothed either. Or even partially clothed. The water is cold. And dirty. And there are probably fish somewhere in there. Leeches. The Loch Ness monster. No no . . . ground is safer. I turn away from the splashing, riotous crew of mermaids to continue on my quest towards ruining the landscape. My colored pencils are out again and having a marvelous time forgetting about depth perception and shading. I have one hand around my waist to keep my shirt firmly in place, lest some knavish sprite come and take my by surprise and toss me in with the rest of the herd.

One by one our modest group of girls starts to give in at various levels of embarrassment and nakedness. Some keep their knickers on, others opt for something less clothed. I opt for clothes. I have no desire to jump in. It isn’t even so much the naked part of all this that bothers me. I’ve been in theater for years. Dressing and undressing in front of girls (or boys) isn’t exactly new. I’m comfortable enough with myself. I don’t think I’m ugly. It’s everyone else that makes me nervous. What if they aren’t comfortable with me observing them? Everyone’s so different. Rolls here and there, in and out of their underwear, swimming in the water, only sitting on the bank . . . they’re all different kinds of druidy goddesses of the earth and if I go over there I will stare. Not to be pornographic, just to wonder at how people can be so different, I suppose. To look at their bodies and think about mine and what it means to be short with long fingers and brown hair and blue eyes and round and flat and whatever else I am.

22 May 2007-Portsmouth

There are some days on the year when I simply cannot be responsible. Today is one of those days. I am surrounded by history. Naval museums are everywhere. The HMS Victory is planted in the middle of some concrete for people to tour. I could, theoretically, learn hundreds of new facts about British Naval history . . . or I could turn into a five year old and spend the entire afternoon prancing around ships for sake of goofy pictures and end the day in a ball pit at a children’s play place in a restaurant. Which is precisely what I do.

Evelyn and I are quite giddy when we see the empty play set. “Do you think-“ “Would they kick us out-“ “Is there an age limit-“ we half run through the exhibit on ship building and knot tying to the back of the restaurant where a deserted play place stands in all of it’s welcoming glory. A kind of ghostly music is echoing off of the padded walls and plastic slides, calling me forward. Who am I to resist fate? Every sailor knows what happens when you resist fate. Ask Odysseus. I either give in to the temptation in my rightful mind or get sucked in and turn into some kind of monster. Evelyn and I look at each other. The gauntlet is dropped. We race to drop our bags and grab our cameras and rip off our shoes (not necessarily in that order). “You take pictures of me, and I’ll get pictures of you!” “Ok!” Run, run, run-up, crawl through the tube (were they always this small?), climb up the ladder (mind your head!), stop for a picture (I love being five!)! In and out and up and pause (flash), go and switch places and your turn and bury me in the balls, and take that picture again my eyes are closed and I am definitely too big for that but I’m going to try it anyway and go through those ropes and slide on that zip line and this play place is the most incredible thing I think I’ve ever seen. One day when I’m old and overly responsible I may look back on my tryst through plastic-ball world as an opportunity lost and mourn that I could have toured many grand historical monuments but . . . well never mind. I won’t regret this.

24 May 2007- Fox Inn-Lulworth Cove

It has been a long day. Up at four in the morning. Be angry about being up at such an un-godly hour. Coach to Stonehenge. Admire Stonehenge. Take pictures with Stonehenge. Coach to Stourhead. Search frantically for Pride and Prejudice filming location where Elizabeth rejects Darcy in the new movie. Take 800 pictures of (and with) Pride and Prejudice filming location in various states of emotional discomfort and longing over Darcy. Coach to Marnhull church. Walk to Tess’ Cottage. Hike to Milton Abbey. Get lost alone in Milton Abbey. Sing songs alone in Milton Abbey while everyone else is being responsible and not lost. Drive with John who has found the lost wandering me to the Inn (get lost twice. His fault, not mine). Discover that I’m sharing a room with Liz which is happy. Discover that the room we’re sharing does not involve hauling luggage up stairs which is also happy. Discover that the room we’re sharing contains several very big fluffy pillows and the room provides tea. Brilliant.

Time to tell the staff of the inn what I want for dinner so that they can have what everyone wants. The options are chicken, vegetarian lasagna, a soup and trout. Brilliant again. I am in the southern part of England, now is the perfect chance to try nice fish since I’m too cheap to buy it for dinner elsewhere! I can let the program pay for my fish! I sign up for trout.

Dinner goes well. Good food, good friends, good talk through the starters. Then the main course starts to arrive. I wait with eager anticipation and several appropriate sea-shanties running through my head until placed before me is Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab is my dinner. He (I’m assuming his gender. I’m not up on fish anatomy) is fully scaled and still in tact with eyes and scales and tail and fins.

If I had a cleaver I would be able to quote A Christmas Story. (He’s smiling at me! Chop). But Captain Ahab isn’t smiling at me. He is accusing me. I don’t have the heart to eat him while he watches. It’s a little indecent. I take some of my left over salad and put it over his eyes. May he rest in peace.

Captain Ahab is completely disgusting and without flavor in revenge.

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