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London,England

September 2010

Akon, Lady Gaga, followed then by some other dance anthem—the synthesized tones trickle out of a quiet radio into the kitchen of theSt.GeorgeInn.  I’m trying to imagine Dickens, sitting with a pint, dreaming up his next chapter, chatting with some other Englishman.  I’m imagining all the voices that have soared through this bar for the last eight hundred or so years. I’m imagining the faded vibrations, the ghosts of song and shouts and whispers, mingling with the music of today.  The space here has heard so much, felt so much, been guarded by so many.

Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and more have all enjoyed its hospitality.

I’m the only one in this section of the bar.  It’s quiet, except for my tapping on the keyboard, the groaning of a door, and Gaga’s crooning “Alejandro.”  It doesn’t feel right.  I know the wood holding this place together is not same which absorbed the vibrations of Chaucer’s eloquence when he ate here—but I try to convince myself it is.  At least the walls are rough, exposing plaster and concrete, hewn from a different age.  At least the chef seems like he could fit in any century past.

I eat my fish and chips with my hands, when the server kindly informs me where the cutlery is hidden.  How was I supposed to know?  This is a different, crazy world! They have mashed peas for you to dip your fries in!  Things are unfamiliar, and I’m concerned about faux pas.

I enjoyed lunch here several times during my stay.

I sense my American naïveté draped around me like a cloak.  I feel strangely safe in my ignorance—there’s a distance from the natives it provides and excuses my poor-etiquette.  But, in that distance, the clarity of cultural understanding I seek is obscured.

The British and their problems seem quaint.  When I hear about violence perpetrated by their more excitable citizens, I almost laugh, thinking, “How bad could it be?”  The British are too busy being British to bother with anything truly mean.  But then I heard, while riding the tube, an announcement asking people not to assault the workers.  At one stop I saw an advert stating that the transport employees have the right to work without fear.  And as I got off I saw another poster, this one showing a close up of a purpling bruised arm, the broken veins beneath showing an outline of the underground system.  It pleaded with commuters not to attack the transit workers.  Yet, I was unfazed.  Just a part of football season, right?

Half an hour later I found myself walking down an empty, dark street without a care in the world—a thoroughfare which I would be strictly terrified to wander down anywhere in the States.

I’m drinking the home brew of the George Inn and…it’s beer.  I don’t know what I expected, but now I have the sinking feeling that every pint will be beer here, and abroad.  I had the hope that it would be some magical potion, something to captivate me unlike all other beverages.  American beer sucks, right?  European beer is the shit, right?  Yet Budweiser lines the wall here as well.

At a glance I can’t tell the difference from downtown USA.

I thought, before arriving, that the architecture would be wildly different.  I’d be lost in a wonderland of aesthetics.  Not the case.  No greater is it to walk about in this spot ofLondonthan to walk aboutGreenwich Village, or the like.

The muffins taste, feel the same; the orange juice as well.  People are assholes, people are friendly.  The clouds soar—white, full, and seated in the blue plains above.  I don’t know what I expected.