Saturday, May 19, 2012

London Calling: Notes From Across the Pond

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson 

 “As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
 I am in paradise.” – Ray Davies 

 They gave us our language (and I’d like to thank them for the use of it; it’s a wonderful, rich, expressive one; the language of William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley and Benny Hill; and I deeply apologize that we’ve mucked it up so.) They gave us our legal system (“Law and Order: UK” is very similar to the American original except, as the detectives can’t carry firearms, they must subdue suspects through the use of scathing sarcasm.) They gave us much of our culture (And we gave them back “Larry the Cable Guy's Christmas Spectacular.”) And, perhaps most importantly, they gave us Monty Python’s Flying Circus, through whom all things are possible. And the “they” of which I speak are, of course, the English. Recently, nycityman and a valued close companion, heretofore referred to, very likely much to her consternation, as nycitywoman, traversed the expansive Atlantic for yet another visit to our beloved city of London. Now, although a foreign land, having spent 53 years immersing myself in the tongue, I felt well prepared for the journey.

Perhaps nycityman’s pathetic priority on said journey (patiently indulged by the more temperate nycitywoman) -
Pubs, pubs and even more pubs – Pubs in the UK are virtual time machines where one is transported from 2012 directly to the 1800’s, 1700’s, 1600’s and in a few cases, even the 1500’s, and with nary a Morlock in sight to endanger you (obscure H.G. Welles reference.) And within these taverns is found a distinct atmosphere, a character, achievable only with the passage of time and one that can never be satisfactorily artificially created – an advancement of infinite proportion from let’s say TGIFridays or Applebees. Enter Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the Lamb and Flag or the Grenadier (rumored to be rife with poltergeists of past generations) and embrace the history, the lore, the fascination, yet calm that comes with the knowledge that you’re treading the same floor boards as did Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, Samuel Johnson and W.B. Yeats. Perhaps the worn wooden bench on which you alight was the very one on which Charles Dickens first conceived of Sydney Carton’s noble and glorious sacrifice. As you gaze around your rich, bountiful and colorful surroundings realize that this establishment has somehow survived everything from the Great Fire to the Blitz to still be standing and in operation for these many hundreds of years. Should the "gents" also be historically accurate to a long ago and bygone era, think of it not as a detriment but rather as a further addition to the genuine flavor of the environs, and as a unique opportunity to experience but a small portion of life as those who came before you did. And don't fear, the Bubonic Plague germs have ceased being active centuries ago.

A walking city – a warning - 
On our first day in London, as is tradition, I almost got hit by a car. While having had the good fortune to vacation in England’s capital city on 7 or 8 separate occasions now, my tendency still remains to look the wrong way when crossing the street. Luckily, when one does get struck by a conveyance there, which for nycityman appears inevitability, the cars are so small they just harmlessly bounce off of you after impact. However, and be warned, such is not the case with the iconic double-decker buses, just be grateful for National Health - mores the pity that we cower before the civilized and progressive concept of a universally well-cared for population.

Accommodations - and a word from our sponsor – 
Think the Cratchitts’ surroundings too posh? Consider the Tower of London ideal lodgings if not for the lack of Showtime and HBO? Love “Fawlty Towers” so that you dream of experiencing a Basil Fawlty fire-drill? Well, when next you find yourself in London be sure to book yourself a room at Millennium's Bailey Hotel - where the lifts lift - in name only, sheets are changed but only after a fatality, it takes David Blaine to properly construe the mechanics of your door lock, and toilet paper is rationed one precious square at a time (please sir, can I have some more?) and as for the toilet, a successful flush is as likely as one at the yearly London School for the Tragically Near-Sighted Texas Hold-Em' Tournament. The Millennium Bailey Hotel - A Little Taste of Mogadishu in the Heart of London. 
All that being said, and there was quite a bit of writer’s embellishment involved, to hopeful comic effect, both nycityman and woman would very likely stay there again should the price be right. It is an expensive metropolis and the exchange rate never favors Americans. We can purchase our own toilet tissue (as we did), take the stairs (a wise notion as the lift doors did trap me once) and call housekeeping with a sheet request (as we needed to.) If, for you,  luxury is a must, Willard Romney best be your travel-mate (non-canine, only) 

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'My vacation's over'” – 
A fortnight ago (we were in London, after all) nycityman was a free, liberated being, bounding the boulevards of one of the planet’s magnificent municipalities, doing whatever I desired whenever I desired –  champagne tea at the Dorchester Hotel, roast rib of Scottish beef, plus a birthday fete, at the historic Simpsons in the Strand, cocktails in the swank flat of a renowned, hit-making songwriter, dinner with a successful author, multiple melodious musicals, casino gambling - no obligations, “no strings and no connections, no ties to my affections, fancy free and free for anything fancy.” (Sorry, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat” was playing on the West End.) In a perfect and unrealistic fantasy version of reality, a variation of how we live while vacationing should be our actual lives - traveling, experiencing new things, exploring fascinating and exciting cites like London - this should be real life, everyday life, not 8 hours or more each day spent caged in the intellectually inhumane and humiliating confines of a cubicle surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of other slogging, similarly sedated and despondent drones - life is far too treasurable and brief, Now, while this delightful delusion of mine, and millions of others, is as impracticable and unobtainable as my junior high school one about Barbara Eden in her Jeannie costume - obviously, people just can’t stop working and still maintain a society – each and every one us could pause and sniff the American Beauties just a little bit more. The concept of the sacrosanct and venerated American work ethic is a ruse designed to make us think we should be proud giving up our valuable time to devote our lives to our corporate overloads in the pursuit of enriching others and not ourselves. But then again – it’s a living. 

And for a final, related thought – is the richness, joy and fulfillment one often relishes while on holiday due to the enrichment of travel with its discovery of new and different places and people; or would it all be for naught and perhaps even lonely and depressing without the company of a special person with whom one shares these new encounters and experiences? (I’m hopeful that sometime soon, we’ll even resolve our on-going airplane armrest skirmish.) Perhaps when all is said and done, the most vital element to a successful, memorable and pleasurable vacation is the company you keep. 

And now, more from England with the brilliant, Kinks and “Waterloo Sunset” -