Writing is a strange and mysterious thing
Writing is a strange and mysterious thing
It’s always a good sign when you smile the second you land into a city.
This past weekend I spent a day in one of my favorite places in Britain so far: Brighton.
I’ve been experiencing somewhat of a mid-term slump, I suppose. I’m a bit homesick, and I’m stressed over planning trips and getting my coursework done. At home, the first thing I usually turn to in times of stress is the beach, or anywhere by the sea, really. Unfortunately the Thames doesn’t really cut it for me, but thankfully I was able to spend some time on the southern shore.
While it’s not the beaches on the New Jersey shore, the ocean is good to me. In the 18th century, doctors believed that sea air and even sea water had excellent health benefits, leading to a mass move of people creating holiday homes on the shore. Brighton is where George IV’s Royal Pavillion resides, and it’s where he came to work on his health, as he claimed.
I don’t know if the seaside does anything physically good for the body, but I know that it does a hell of a lot for the mind. Being on a beach and looking out onto the water and feeling the salty air whip my hair around let me breathe for a moment. Just a moment. Maybe just a moment was not enough, because I find myself stuck in the city and wishing I was on the shore, but I’m grateful that I was there at all.
Seeing a pier, bountiful ice cream shops and beachfront stores made me all the more wistful of being home on the Jersey Shore. Not that I don’t enjoy London immensely–it’s just that I often let my anxieties get the best of me and the only thing I want is to be home with my friends and family lying on the beach at dusk.
Brighton is a city, a small city with unique shops, but it’s also the seaside. It’s a mix of the two things I love the most. I have a feeling that my visit wasn’t the last time I’ll ever go there. I hope it wasn’t.
There is a sort of aversion to being identified as a tourist. I know that when I think of a tourist I think of a silly dad with his family holding a map out, trying to find where Big Ben is. To the Londoner, he is a joke to laugh at, but why? Certainly, if someone were to visit his city, they would become him. But maybe not.
This past week a friend from the U.S. came to visit, and her checklist consisted of London’s landmarks: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus. Living here for a month and doing my hardest to blend in with the Londoners around me, I realized that I hadn’t even visited some of London’s most sought after landmarks, like Kensington Palace. And when we did visit them, I had fun, I admired, I took photos and stood in awe. Sure, we did look like tourists, but what was so wrong about that?
I’ve been spending some time trying to work out my aversion, and the general aversion, to being a tourist. I think it mostly has to do with tourism not providing a fully authentic experience of a place. Hopping around central London doesn’t lend to an immersive English experience. But when you have five days in a new city, wouldn’t you want to see the things it’s known for? And hopefully, if you’ve got a friend who’s been living there for two and a half months (ahem), you’ll be able to hit up some lesser known and non-touristy spots like a blues club and a hole-in-the-wall pub for some delicious fish and chips.
Tourists, don’t feel bad. And Natives, go easy.
Conclusion: Everything in England is OLD
Instead of reflecting on a place in my travels for week 6, I wrote a poem, inspired by afternoon tea.
“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun: it shines everywhere.” – Twelfth Night
Image credit: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g186338-d2509818-i80265311-Bloomsbury_Coffee_House-London_England.html
For the purposes of this very astute and in-depth think piece (I got jokes) on why I think writers are drawn to writing in coffee shops, I’ll have to identify as a writer. Which feels presumptuous. But since this isn’t a research paper or article for a proper publication, I can only speak from personal experience. Continue reading
It seems to me that London is a city where there is no shortage of history. I visited the Tower of London and was given a guided tour. With each date going back to the 1000s, I was astonished that I was standing in the middle of a structure over one thousand years old. And to think that all of it was right in the middle of a modern city, one of the most metropolitan cities in the world.
I particularly enjoyed my tour guide, who had enough wit to keep the tour entertaining for the whole hour of it. He was open for questions as well, and because all of us were from out of town, there was plenty.
My favorite part of the Tower was probably getting to see the crown jewels. The building in which they are held is guarded, and I managed to see the last bit of the guards changing. It was incredible to see the belongings of the rulers so far before Elizabeth II, and even her own crown was presented in the tower.
I can’t help but think of the way London has changed over the thousands of years it has stood, and how much the people have changed too. I look at bricks thousands of years older than me but I like to think about the person who held them in his own hands. What was he like? Would we even understand each other if we were to meet? London’s history has a funny way of making me think impossible things.