London Calling

London Calling

August 31, 2010

Hello all,

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve made an update, but a lot has been going on. I’ve arrived safely in London, and now I’ve been here for about a week. The time has gone by so fast, you don’t realize just how much there is to take care of when you first arrive to a new country. Before you know it, it’s been a week and you are still finding things you forgot at the Sainsbury’s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What happened that last weekend in DC? Only one of the most important things there is to do when you live in the District – Sushi! I took some of my group members out to meet Josh The Physicist and enjoy some Japanese fare. The food was great, and it ought to have been since we trekked all the way out to Groveland Park, which is not easily off the Metro. But my sushi-newcomer friends seemed to really enjoy themselves. If you’ve never had it before, I definitely recommend you start with tuna. It’s a very clean tasting fish, plus it’s pretty. We stopped for a quick drink after at the Scion in Dupont Circle (of course) and got home for an early night – there was packing and cleaning to do!

We scrubbed the RAF down like our lives and bank accounts depended on it (which they did) but I daresay we all passed inspection without a hitch. This led to some time to sit around and just wait for the bus to take us to the airport. We decided to cross off two more things on our DC trip bucket list. 1. To visit the old, closed down arena on our block and 2. Have confessions Real World style in the basement.

First, the arena. On our street at the RAF there’s an old arena that’s now used to store cars. Ryne was good enough to take notice of it and do some research (leave it up to the only Canadian on the trip to be the most observant). Well as it turns out, it is the place that The Beatles played their first North American concert! Only a block from our DC home! Some of us decided to go check it out and take a few pictures. When we got up closer we found that other travelers had found the same spot and tagged the wall. Hidden from the street in a small enclave by the door we’re a handful of signatures, quotes, and fans proclaiming their discovery of the hidden treasure and when. We decided to make our own mark and tagged the wall with our own quotes. An elderly woman passing by stopped to tell us how this was the place The Beatles played as well as other big names such as James Brown. We really found a hidden piece of history.

Our mark on the Beatles Arena

This little excursion gave us the perfect talking points for our DC “Confessions”. If you don’t know what Confessions is, it’s the part on reality shows where you go into a private room and say whatever you like on camera. We all decided to keep it nice and talk about what we learned in DC, why we’re excited for London, and why we are on this trip. I haven’t seen the videos yet but having just furthered an important piece of pop culture history I was already feeling like I was a part of something bigger than just spending a crazy semester abroad.

Eventually we made it to London, only about a seven hour plane ride it was relatively painless. I am not one to easily sleep while traveling, so I spent the majority of my flight chatting with the friendly Brit next to me, Tim. I decided to use this time to put into play all that I had learned about UK current events and it worked! We had plenty to talk about. Tim was very pleased with my knowledge and he, himself, was very insightful (Thanks Heather, Patsy, and Dr. Joe).  About the time we got to Heathrow though, it was approximately 2:30 a.m. in DC, so you can imagine I was pretty tired. I will spare you the gruesome details of my zombie-like state or how I only made it to about 1:30 in the afternoon before I swore off any and all travel advice I’d ever received and crashed for a solid three hours. I hit the pillow and was awake just long enough to hear the sorrowful conversation in the living room.

“Hey, wait - what happened to Anna!?”

“…She succumbed…”

About the time I rose from the dead everything went into fast forward mode. The next few days were a blur of grocery shopping, laundry-doing, Tube navigating, and pub hopping. Fish and chips were not as readily available as we had hoped they would be, finding just the right place to go was in itself a quest. In fact, everything in London is harder to find than the US. The Tube is not as clearly marked as the Metro, nor is there a clear rule on which side of the street you are supposed to walk on. Manners are shown by actions, not by speaking, and there is certainly a rule that chatting with store clerks means you are an American. The British are very quiet.

But how quiet are they, Anna?

They are so quiet that even at an outdoor concert, they do not jump, yell or dance. It’s true. Friday rolled around and it was time for an event that I had been waiting for for months. The first ever London Electronic Dance Festival (L.E.D.)! An outdoor concert, two days long in the beautiful Victoria Park, over on the west end of the city. Two stages, tons of big name dance music artists, and gorgeous 65 degree weather. All of these things sound like big time fun and excitement. I mean, you expect things to get crazy, “dance” is in the name of the event after all. Does that mean anything to the English? It most certainly does. It means, “There’s Goldfrapp! An international superstar! She’s singing my favorite song! And Clive, do tell me, how was your weekend trip to Manchester? Yes the weather was dreadful, wasn’t it?” So you understand when I say subtle, I could potentially substitute words like, “peculiar”, “strange”, or “off their rockers”.  Carnival, the UK version of Mardi Gras in Notting Hill was this same weekend. In America, you are lucky to come back from Mardi Gras with all of your limbs. When the British let loose – they litter. But only because there will be a clean up crew of course.

The British, not dancing

Despite my qualms with British mannerisms, there is something to be said about the subtlety of the English way. With less yelling in the streets or honking horns, it is much easier to take an afternoon nap here. When you are not distracted by someone’s ridiculous outfit at an outdoor festival, you pay more attention to the sounds on stage (unless you are friends with Clive who has just returned from Manchester). Things in the UK are not spoon fed to you like in the US. London is a city based on you being observant and self sufficient. If you need something, you ought to go out and find it. There may not always be a sign telling you which way to turn, but along the way you might find some other hidden treasure. When I think about it, London has been like finding the arena near the RAF. It’s not always shiny or pretty, but it’s also not out of reach. There are things waiting to be found in the city, and without all the noise of the American style of life, you actually have the chance to hear and see what else is going on around you.

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