Oh! The Places I’ve Been – “L” is for LONDON

Almost halfway through the A to Z Challenge! I hope you’re enjoying your armchair travels. As I stated back at “A is for Austin,” there are many people who have traveled farther and wider than I. And one of them is my new friend Lottie Nevin. Man, I just adore this woman, and we’ve never met. Just follow her blog and you’ll understand.

Besides being a wonderful blogger, Lottie is a most talented photographer. These are her photographs, and I couldn’t be happier to share them with you.

My husband and I traveled to London in late 1997, just months after the tragic death of Princess Diana (and every window had something with her smiling face: a coffee mug, a sweatshirt, a canvas book tote). We had a fabulous time and I did take photos, but on film, and I couldn’t find the prints anywhere. Hence my friend Mrs. Nevin to the rescue.

Thames and Tower Bridge - photo by Lottie Nevin
Thames and Tower Bridge – photo by Lottie Nevin

The highlight of our trip to London was the Tower, for sure. Oh, there’s plenty to see. You all know that – Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s, Parliament, all of it. Yes, see it all. But one thing few people know about is the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower. Not to be missed.

Trafalgar Square - photo by Lottie Nevin
Trafalgar Square – photo by Lottie Nevin

Now, English food has received a bad rap over the years, and I understand. Bubble ‘n’ Squeak, Bangers and Mash, Spotted Dick. Poor chaps. But listen! They have the best Indian food around! Eat curries!

The Globe Pub, Southbank - photo by Lottie Nevin
The Globe Pub, Southbank – photo by Lottie Nevin

Besides eating great (!) food and walking through churches, you must go to the theatre. We had the extraordinary experience of seeing the legendary Jim Dale star in Oliver! at the London Palladium.

Berwick Street, Doho - photo by Lottie Nevin
Berwick Street, Soho – photo by Lottie Nevin
Phone boxes, Hanover Square - photo by Lottie Nevin
Phone boxes, Hanover Square – photo by Lottie Nevin

London was fantastic, but we did travel away from the capital. Leeds Castle, Dover, Windsor, Canterbury – time will run out long before your list of “must-see’s” is finished.

A Few Things I Learned from my Mother

Wedding Day, October 22, 1955

When we first knew about my mother’s illness, I remember sitting in the car with my husband one day.  We were parked in the driveway, and he was about to back up.  I said, “I wish she would just die.”  He stopped backing up and looked at me.  “You don’t really mean it,” he said.  “Yes, I do mean it.  I wish she would die now, rather than have to go through this.”  I hesitated. “I don’t want to go through it either,” I whispered.

My mom was so intelligent.  She was precise.  Very precise.

When I was ten: “If someone asks, ‘Who is it?’ you should answer ‘It is I,’ not ‘It’s me.'”  I thought to myself, that just sounds weird.  But I remembered.

When I was a teenager, she hooked me on crossword puzzles, and I added “epee,” “aerie,” and “alee” to my vocabulary.

When I was a young adult, we’d play marathon Scrabble games, and she decided we should use nine letters instead of seven, because we could make better words with nine letters.

In Switzerland

When I was newly married, I researched her genealogy, tracing her mother’s line back to King Alfred the Great.  This prompted us to start spending Saturdays traipsing around old cemeteries in Kent County, finding Stones and Wightmans and matching them to the names in the family tree.

Joyce, Carter, and John

A few years before dementia invaded her mind and robbed her of reason and memory, she stated, “It’s not correct to say ‘I feel nauseous.’  You should say ‘I feel nauseated.’  Did you know that?”  My husband just shook his head and smiled.  Joyce strikes again.

Years after she lost the ability to speak, or to recognize my sisters and me, my mother died at a quarter to eleven on a Saturday morning.  My wristwatch stopped ticking at the same time.

The day after we laid her to rest, my husband took me to Newport.  We ate lunch at the Red Parrot and sat by the water, watching the endless cycle of waves: rush in, hurry back out.  She’d been lost to us for years; still, the finality of losing both parents was inescapable.

On the drive home, my husband turned on the radio.  We were hoping to catch the news on the hour, but had to listen to a few minutes of a talk show first.  The caller on the air was upset about whatever situation was the topic of the show, I guess.  “You know, Dan, I’m just nauseated over it.”

I turned to my husband, who was grinning, too.  “Joyce!” we cried in unison.  She’d have been pleased to hear he got it right.

Veggies and Hoodies and Smoothies – oh my

There were three men seated at the table next to mine.  They wore fatigues, so I knew they were with the Army National Guard Recruiting Center just up the road from the Whole Foods Market.  Big, burly guys.  Manly men.  Talking about…..smoothies.

My heart sank.  If they’d been getting all soft about their daughters, or their puppies, I’d have understood.  It’s something that makes a man attractive.  But hearing one of them actually say “smoothie,” it just went against everything I hold dear and traditional.

I can’t say when this started, this abbreviating words into baby talk.  “Hooded sweatshirt” has four syllables – you’re only saving two syllables when you say “hoodie.”   Are you really in that much of a rush?  Webster’s Dictionary states the first use of “hoodie” was in 1992, well before texting eclipsed writing words the way they should be written.  And now it’s everywhere.  Sigh.

Veggies.  Did parents start this, trying to coerce their children into eating broccoli and cauliflower?  Does the word “vegetables” have such a sinister meaning that saying “veggies” makes them sound more tasty?  And even if it’s true that parents can’t speak English to their children and must instead speak baby talk, why is it that I’m hearing it in restaurants?  “We have mixed veggies tonight!”  I half-expected to be spoon-fed.  “Here comes the train, loaded up with peas!  Open wide!”  Bigger sigh.

So perhaps I should have put this disclaimer at the top – I’m ranting.  And I do try to keep my blog posts positive, even funny.  It’s just that I love words.  I hate the denigration of words.  Hoodies. Veggies. Smoothies.  Even my dear old father-in-law does it.  He doesn’t have “fog lights” on his car, he has “foggies.”  Can you hear me screaming from here?

I know, it’s not going to change.  I’m old, I belong to a different time.  I’m going to go make a blended shake with fruit and almond milk.

Read to Write

I’ve had this book in my head for years, and it’s about time I draw it out of my memory and put it to paper (or on my monitor, then my thumb drive – well, you get the point). I don’t expect anyone other than my friends and family will read it, once it’s finally written, but then again, that’s what Kathryn Stockett thought when she wrote “The Help.” She said she never thought anyone would read it. And I feel that way, too. But I’ll still write my book.

I’m writing more now that I’m not working. The fact that I left my job is for another more dramatic and emotional blog, but when I was working I wasn’t able to write. My head was always somewhere else, even after I’d left work and come home.  Even on the weekends. Now, there’s a lot of free time, and I’m writing. Writing this blog every few days.  Starting a new blog, which I’ll mention once it’s up and running. Working on my book. I’m kind of busy! It’s understandable that writers want to hole up in a cabin, or in a deserted beach house in the middle of winter, to write. Few distractions. Here at home, even when my husband is out of the house, there is laundry, dog-walking. The telephone rings and a friend is checking in. But it’s not annoying, it’s just life.

For inspiration, I read. I read books by people who write the way I would like to write. And although I believe it’s a good thing to read a variety of books (biography, romance, science-fiction), for now I’ve been concentrating on the authors who have meaning for me as a wannabe writer. Those authors can be the warm blanket, the strong coffee, and sometimes, the light bulb.

Life is short! Turn the page.

Living in a Closet

My junior year of college was spent overseas, in Fribourg, Switzerland.  I’ve written often about that year, because it was, without a doubt, the most pivotal year in my life.  Our living arrangements were varied; many students lived with a family, or an elderly couple, or a widow.

I lived on the elegant Boulevard de Perolles, number 13.  An elderly couple, whom I called Monsieur and Madame, leased a room for an American student.  But my room wasn’t within their very well-appointed and tasteful apartment; it was en haut.  To reach it, I entered the little elevator at ground level, pulled the wrought-iron gate shut, and pressed the number 4.  The elevator inched to the fourth floor and stopped.  Then I exited the elevator, and climbed another flight of stairs, to reach the upper floor of the apartment building.  There was a dimly-lit corridor and a row of doors.  One of those doors was mine.

My room was tiny.  If I stood in the middle of the room with outstretched arms, I could almost touch both walls with my fingers.  I had a narrow bed, a small desk and chair, and a brightly-painted armoire for all of my clothes, shoes, coat, and luggage.  I did have a window, and a hot pot for boiling water.  And it was exceptionally clean (after all, this was Switzerland).  At the end of the corridor was a toilet (a WC, or water closet), and outside the WC was a cold-water sink.  I was allowed to use the Monneys’ apartment once a day for a shower.

I had a neighbor en haut, and although I never knew her name (I called her “Madame”), she reminded me of Edith Piaf.  A small, frail woman with a small, high-pitched voice, I seldom saw her, except in the rare instance we both were coming out of our rooms.  But she always smiled and was very pleasant.  She told me that her sister and brother-in-law had the apartment on the fourth floor, so I imagine that she, a widow or spinster, was allowed to live in this tiny room, and would take her meals with them.  There was another
woman who lived down the corridor, and I was told her name was Lena.  She and I never spoke.  Indeed, if I saw her in the corridor, I would say, “Bonjour, Madame,” but she just grunted back at me.  My friends and I conjured up all kinds of wild stories about her, but in truth, she was probably a never-married woman with little means, and no family.  She kept to herself.  Now try to imagine living in such a tiny space, not just for 10 months, but for the rest of your life.  How did she keep clean?  Occasionally, I’d
see her carrying a large bowl and filling it at the cold-water spigot.  Did she heat the water or use it cold?  What did she eat?  Who did she speak with?  A lonely, old, poor woman in a very rich and beautiful country, living en haut, in a closet.