travel breather

I admit it: I’m a bit travel weary and look forward to staying put for the next few weeks that look relatively free from air travel. So averse to vehicular transportation am I at this moment that I have even been avoiding the Tube and have instead resumed full reliance on my legs, feet, and comfortable footwear. Yesterday my 8 mile wanderings took me east and over the Tower Bridge, the iconic one I think should be the London Bridge but isn’t. This city, like many in Europe at the moment, is experiencing a cold spell. Not exceptional if you’re used to freezing temps in winter like all proper Northeasterners from the US, but worthy of more than a few news minutes in these parts. Precipitation is taking its toll on some parts of this and nearby latitudes that are simply not equipped to respond to sleet and snow. Naturally, much of the news reporting has centered on Heathrow’s preparedness for weather eventualities after being caught flat-footed during last year’s unexpected wintry mix, when so many were stranded in the airport for days.

So why digress so extensively on weather? Oddly enough, as I was walking in the freezing cold, bundled up in layers of wool and fleece, I experienced supreme contentment. This is winter. And I would much rather worry about making sure I wear my sherpa-looking boots, with their faux-shearling lining, than stress about whether or not my insect repellant had worn off. In terms of a sense of home, too much warmth gives me pause.

Of course, as luck would have it, my east coast friends are experiencing downright balmy temperatures. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the slightest bit of envy at the thought of decreasing my winter layer count by one — that rare February day when the sun smiles widely and the air is almost 60 degrees. That’s the thing about London, though — at no point do I expect sunshine, so when the sky is blanketed with brilliant blue, as in the past two days, rather than the usual thick grey covering, I am ecstatic. The cold is but a mere nuisance that I’m happy to deal with. Or it could just be not having the start of a spring semester to deal with — yes, this sabbatical is just one, long, rose-colored trip isn’t it?

So with my travel weariness, it looks like the Seine will have to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, a little bit of Paris has found its way to me in the form of an article in the The Atlantic about an art exhibit-via-blog that features renderings of life in two cities with so much in common and yet so little alike: Paris and New York. The blog, Paris versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities, offers simple commentary about the cities’ complexities, as suggested by the image below.

In my mind, it also sets up a multi-faceted game of “Would you rather?” — the city edition. I am happy to wander into and out of both, and for now will delight in the wonders that London has to offer. Today’s discovery: the Camden Stables Market, set on a series of intersecting cobblestone streets, tucked away just behind Camden High Street.

Camden Stables Market, London


Camden Stables Market, London

And, in the vein of pursuits of the grocery variety, I found my local Morrison’s — or what I like to refer to as an American-sized supermarket. This was more an archaeological find than a sort of magic treasure — in a city facing space issues akin to Manhattan, it is endlessly surprising (and a bit curious) to see how differently space is used. Or not used. What is it that prompts the construction of multiple, multi-story Bed, Bath, and Beyond stores or full scale shopping complexes within city limits? One might cynically describe this as yet another example of American excess (something that is amply noticeable when traveling elsewhere and receiving a single napkin with one’s take away order). Is it, perhaps, spatial ingenuity? Or spatial dominance? Perhaps I should stop here lest I feel the urge to make and wave a flag around… But I am reminded, in strange way, of James Baldwin’s reflections as he traveled abroad on several occasions — he claimed that he never felt so American as he did when he was out of America. To home and back and back again…

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