Tuesday, November 9, 2010

blog fatigue

just over a week and ive hit a wall. trying to write a blog on a day im working is kind of ridiculous for my brain. also, i think i wrote and received enough emails to kill a horse, all with people speaking into my ear. makes me go a bit loopy. its nothing a couple of tv mysteries cant solve, tho. the new love of my tv life is the show sherlock. it really is a perfect adaptation/bringing up to date of my favorite mystery stories ever. if youve never gotten into sherlock holmes, now is the time. go here to watch the first (and only until next fall) three episodes. a study in pink is the first. you only have a month from sunday so hop to it, the game is on.
so here it is, almost midnight. but i dont want to pawn off another random something i wrote a while back on you all again today. (by the time i finish it will be tomorrow and ill have to start all over again...argh) enough.
since i cant get him out of my brain, ill just bring you folks into the conversation. less about holmes and more about his home: london. i love that town with a passion. i lived there for four months the fall of 1999. it was my 'study abroad' semester and while my friends were going to india and africa and latin america, i went to the city i had spent so much time in already, but only in my head. remember, i was an english major with a penchant for shakespeare and theatre. it took until i was out of college to really delve deeply into american literature because i had spent all my high school and college years reading brit lit. i had read so many books and plays set in england generally and london specifically in my life by the time i visited the city, a very many of them written before the turn of the last century, (including every sherlock holmes story ever published) that i felt i knew my way around before id even settled into my flat. which ended up being a fantastic delusion because a kid who grew up in chicago, (where there are arrow straight streets that run for miles and miles and its a perfect grid--thanks chicago fire--of north/south and east/west streets and has a numbering system radiating out in each cardinal direction from state and madison, every block a new hundred, every 8 blocks a mile) was going to by definition get horribly lost in the nest, the warren, the tangle, the maze of streets that makes up the city of london. it is disordered and chaotic, utterly random in its numbering, and completely baffling in its classification of streets, avenues, lanes, roads, places, squares, circles, circuses, terraces, gardens, vales, and mewses. i promise, each and every one of those names is attached to a roadway of a different size and shape than its fellow, on the map of london. there is no end to the dead ending, twist and turning, roundabouting, jogging, zig and zagging, and every shift of direction, no matter how slight, changes the name of the street. i could walk from my flat to school via two routes. one, was down edgware road to the main street, which was oxford street, head east, and then up tottenham court road. took about 35 minutes. or, i could go as directly east as i could from my flat (instead of the down/up part) and, if i didnt get lost, cut 5-10 minutes off my walk and traverse a roadway that changed names 6 times between edgware and tottenham court. this is not an exaggeration, look it up yourself. and this is why no resident of london is without a copy of the 'a to z' (pronounced a to zed) which is basically a map of london in book form with an index of streets in the back. (it figures prominently in the second of the new sherlock episodes, updated from the almanac used for a similar purpose in the original story.)
for those of you who have never run across a mews (pronounced, at least by the american tongue, like 'muse'), or havent read sir arthur conan doyle as deeply as i, i will attempt to explain what that particular kind of roadway, or passage, is. if a square is a small (1 block in length per side) fenced in, private park (see the movie notting hill for an illustration) with a road that goes around all four sides (all the sides of this square-shaped road have the same name, like grosvenor square) with houses facing this road all around it (with their numbers starting in one corner and working their way up around the square back to the start so the lowest and the highest are a the same corner), then a mews is the miniature, back alley version of that. it was originally the place behind the grand houses on the square where you pulled in the carriage and found the stables to leave the horses. so, like an alley with garages, except when carriages went out with the automobile, the stables got turned into apartments, and people moved in. so its like having an apartment that looks out onto a courtyard. its rare (as far as i know) for a mews to be a through street. i always saw them as dead ends. and, if you care about this sort of thing, its not a very prestigious address to have. there is a great scene in a sherlock holmes story called, i think, 'a scandal in bohemia' where he hangs around a mews disguised as a coachman and gets all the information he needs about a certain suspect from the grooms in the stables of her house. its the kind of 'street' you can see and immediately cast your mind back to a time when it made sense to have an alleyway only 6ft wide and with no real turnaround and no exit. one of the thousand things that remind you how very long london has been a center of civilization and culture. im so very glad i took a history of london class while i was there. did you know there are still places in the city where you can see the original roman wall? the one they built to enclose entire the city back in the 3rd century? (which is now just the small neighborhood called 'the city' east of the west end which is like the loop in chicago, the financial center of london.)
but i digress. london, for someone with plenty of time and a compass, is an exceedingly pleasurable city to walk in. especially if you are willing to get lost. i realized early on in my semester there, if i took the tube anywhere in the first two zones (the smallest of the concentric circles radiating out from the city center used for the pricing of fares) i was doing myself a great disservice of 1) disorienting myself and 2) not allowing myself to see how all the different areas fit together. if i walked from one place to the other i understood the shift from neighborhood to neighborhood and realized things like the fact that those two tube stops were actually just a long block from each other and not worth the trip underground. the street im thinking of, between the embankment stop and the charing cross stop, quickly became my favorite one to walk down in london (or the part of london i knew, chiefly the west end). its called villiers street and one end opens on to the strand right near charing cross station and st. martin in the fields church (the one whose steps were famously recorded by edward r. murrow during an air raid in the blitz, he held the mic down to the steps to get the sound of londoners walking (walking!) to the air raid shelter in the crypt below), the other end not quite entering onto embankment road. there is a bridge over the thames right there, only for the train into charing cross and foot traffic, which gives you a fantastic view of southwark and westminster and the millennium ferris wheel (now called the london eye and which at the time was still being built). the thing about getting on that bridge is you have to do it from the second floor. sounds funny to think of a street as having a second floor, and it really was built into the building of charing cross station, but it felt as much like a public thoroughfare as the street was, and looked out over this street in the best people-watching fashion. i used to take this route from school, which was right next to the british museum, to the national theatre just over the river (which i did every other week that semester, i lost track of how many theatre productions i saw around town in that time but would estimate around 20). id spend a couple hours walking down charing cross road and stopping in every bookshop i saw, then climb up to my perch on villiers street and watch the commuters coming home from work, passing by the inevitable statue-type street performer at the bottom of the street, until it was time to go to the theatre. thinking back, i dont know if i ever walked on the street-level part of that street. i only ever wanted to be there for the birds eye view of the masses and the quaint little shops. it felt like standing on the bridge over the expressway near my home growing up. like watching a river flow past you. meditative and yet interesting, cuz noticing how very similar yet slightly different the people were was a fun game, the subtle variations in london working professional garb, almost invariably black and complete with the standard issue satchels or briefcases and the long umbrellas, some with their commuting shoes on--vastly different from their office shoes, cuz they never match the outfit. then every once in a while a splash of color, catching one's eye just like an autumn leaf getting borne down a stream would.
hm. seems to be a pattern of thought for me to write about, the places i can be alone with my thoughts, watching movement. wonder if thats to do with the fact that writing is such a solitary art, its another place in which im good at being alone.

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