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travelogue: London, day 1 (and prologue)

2004-02-19 - 7:19 p.m.

We showed up at the airport Friday night. The terminal was infested with rabid right-to-lifers, carrying signs reading "No abortions, no exceptions." While we waited in line I snarled at R "oh, so if a 11-year-old girl is brutally raped by her own father, she shouldn't be allowed an abortion?" After about 15 minutes of such comments, we reach the counter. No flights tonight, the weather in Chicago (where we were supposed to connect) is too bad. Solution? A 6 am flight to New York, then over to London. So we head home, R proceeds to repack all our bags, and we stay up all freaking night to get to the airport at 4 am the next morning.

When we finally arrive in London, we're in some sort of sleep-deprived limbo. R and I laugh like demented hyenas at various Britishisms, like "way out" instead of "exit." We keep muttering "It's like a whole other country." And it was. Coming out of Heathrow, what did we see but a warning sign for "humped zebra crossing." R and I break out in more hysterical laughter, imagining various lewd acts involving African wildlife. But no, “humps” are little more than speed bumps, leading to R and I to bray like donkeys upon seeing warning of “Humps for 800 yards.” That’s stamina, huh? (By the way, a "zebra crossing" is simply a pedestrian crossing. Instead of naming it after function, they name after form. Bloody Brits.)

Before we even hit our friend's apartment, we had to stop off at the local grocery store. R, like an addict jonesing for his fix, snapped up a pack of Aero Bars, which taste alarmingly like flavored chalk dust. We also bought supplies for R's increasingly-famous pollo saltado.

The next morning, we lazed about for a while, catching up on news and gossip,and then did lunch at what I felt was an authentic English pub. Whoever said England had crappy food was stupid. The food was great--not real imaginative, but very good and filling. There would be more surprises in store in terms of pubs, but you'll have to wait.

After lunch, we went to Hampstead Heath, where we traipsed about in the mud for a while, walking off our roast beef dinner. It was glorious. We went into the house and saw much lovely artwork, including a marvelous Vermeer which I adored and which R sneered at becomingly.

After muddying our shoes throroughly, we headed back, grabbed some dinner, and then went out to a "celebrity" soccer match. I'm not certain what made it "celebrity," although I did see one of the players in the newspaper the next day apologizing to his mother for having participated in a wild orgy (I shit you not!). We only stayed through half the game, as it was cold and we didn't have seats, and therefore couldn't really see the game terribly well. Still, it was exciting. At one point there was a heckler standing in back of us, thankfully not heckling us, but rather the players on the field. As I clutched my cup'o'tea, I thought to myself, "ah, London! I'm at a football match and there is a crazed football fan! This is the good stuff." There were no riots, but a fair amount of cursing, and some random tarts wandering around, mournfully gazing at the field and trying in vain to become one of the few, the proud, the groupies.

Our friend knew one of the players, and at one point another (black) man who knew said player introduced himself to us. He seemed to be a very nice man, albeit with deeply unfortunate teeth, but R and I were a bit shocked when he jokingly referred to himself as "Uncle Tom." After he left, our friend explained to us that in fact, he was Uncle Tom--his name was Tom and he was said player's Uncle. Not long after, said player came out during halftime. "Hey, S----!" our friend called out. To no avail. S--- had seemingly gotten a little too big for his britches, and ignored us completely.

Next: An abortive attempt to visit the Tower of London; R and I participate in our first evensong service at Southwark.


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