Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Historoliterarydickensian Expectations

This evening, accompanied by one of London’s foremost literary-gossip connoisseurs (not pictured in this post due to a much-sympathized-with photograph-escape clause in the friendship contract signed universally by pairs of curly-haired women who reserve the right to claim “bad hair day,” which—as I well know—in curly-haired-girl terms means simply a “curly hair day in which I didn’t use my flat-iron”), I got one of the most remarkable tours of literary London. It’s the sort of tour that only people the most steeped in historoliterary arcana and can give. My old friend is just that sort of person.

We met in front of the British Museum, of course. Because that’s a very, very historical spot. There were even a few people standing outside holding replicas of the Rosetta Stone tablet they had just purchased within.

This is not a photograph of us, by the way, but I felt the need to share it because it confirms everything I had started suspecting lately: Doc Martens are back. And thank the little baby Jesus lying in his ghost manger, because they really add so much to an otherwise subtle denim-sandwich, as you can see.

So after my old friend and I reunited, we strolled North in search of a restaurant. Immediately we passed by what can only be termed a highlight of my life: The British Medical Association. Through its gates, you can see a little courtyard area. I mean, I couldn't quite make it out, but apparently one of Dickens’ houses was there! The two be-suited and be-suitcased men walking innocuously in front can only be undercover guards protecting that inner-sanctum of Victoriana.

And of course what should be located a convenient seven-ish minute walk away from the aforementioned old man of such moral and undeniable rectitude? Well, my friend gestured to this marvelous preservation of literary history:

You guessed it, probably! That’s right! That parking lot, gated of course for security, and respectfully festooned with those lovely primary-colored lights, is the spot where Ellen Lawless Ternan was lodged by Dickens. Ternan, of course, was his mistress. She was only 27 years younger than him when they met. That would mean that basically if I follow in Dickens’ footsteps as assiduously as I intend, my own future boyfriend is right now 2 years old. To put this in perspective: he was born after Harry Potter was written. We will meet in sixteen years!

Speaking of young boys, remember Tiny Tim? The young, differently-abled son of Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol? We passed by his house on our walk near the Camden Canals. I swear I could smell that roasted turkey Scrooge sent over to them for Christmas that year.

Lastly, and not leastly, after we dined in Gwyneth Paltrow’s neighborhood—yes, the very Gwyneth who played Estella in Dickens’ Great Expectations in 1998 (only eleven years before my hypothetical future boyfriend would be born, for those of you keeping track!), and yes, the very character who is, in part, modeled after Ellen Lawless Ternan—we went to this spot located inside a Gelato shop:

Recognize it? Probably not. It’s very obscure. It’s the sort of insider-information that you only get when you travel around with one of the elite luminaries of London’s literati. That’s right: Helena Bonham Carter stood there 2 months ago and ordered a gelato! And my friend witnessed this grand moment in history from that very chair in the top-left corner of this high-quality photo! And of course, I hardly need mention that said actress is a cornerstone of literary fame simply because she’s about to appear as Miss Havisham in an upcoming remake of Great Expectations!

I don’t know about you, but I’m squirming with excitement about that future moment in my life when I will see HBC’s pouty face squinting on the screen, her hair in disarray, saying to Pip, “Come nearer. Let me look at you. Come close. Look at me. You aren't afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since before you were born?” Perfect casting, I would say. All those years she's spent avoiding the sun have finally proven useful to her career!

A grand thank you to my friend for this incredible tour of “LonDickens” as I will hereafter call it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Return of the American!

Sometimes you don't realize how proud you really are to be American until you leave America again. Living in California, I often feel like an outsider. After all, I don't know how to skateboard to work and it's hard to find shampoo in the drugstores. It's difficult there, whatwith all the people speaking a strange dialect of Mexican and Uptalk, to really get a handle on one's American identity.

That was why I felt strangely at home amongst some of my students yesterday, while sitting in a restaurant in Covent Garden. We are here for three weeks doing walking tours of historical literary-spots. Greg, a former Marine who is completing college after serving in Iraq, ordered the "American Supreme Pizza" and a Budweiser. I knew then that I'd found a kindred spirit. "I'm offended that the 'American Supreme' pizza has pepperoni and onions on it," he said with no further explanation. A student named Robert, unlike me, understood what Greg meant. He leaned over to him reassuringly and explained, "It's called that because in Italy, pizza just has tomatoes and cheese. In the US we do things all zany!" He gesticulated with some jazz-hands to clarify. "You know, with pepperoni and crazy stuff in it!"

"I feel so out of my comfort zone here," Greg confessed as we ate and drank as dinner wore on. "Last year I went on a trip to Disneyland for a week. Every day was planned out. It was so much fun." Robert took a photograph of his own dish: Fish 'n Chips (which had no chips as far as I could tell). I asked him how it tasted. "Adequate," he said. It looked soggy. I'm so glad he captured an image of that dish on film. He also took pictures of some trees he liked, some buildings he liked, and of an accident we witnessed where a taxi driver hit a biker. Robert is clearly an American who knows how to travel properly!

We completed our evening's adventure by taking a photograph of Robert standing in a London phone-booth pretending to dial up the Ministry of Magic. The photo-session became funnier when we realized that there were "tarty" sex-phone ads posted above the phone itself.

I am sure that Robert, Greg, and the other students I was with (one of whom was carrying around her Harry Potter notebook she bought especially for this trip) will make me, you, and all of our fellow Americans proud as they examine the mother country this month.