January 20th - A Night of My Own


January 20th, 2009

Today I was left to myself for a few hours, as some of my peers headed off to class and another ditched our Madame Tussaud’s adventure for a paper deadline. At first, I went in search of a television and the inauguration, but along the way I stumbled upon a pink-hued sky with thunderheads tugging at its corners. The sun is so little seen on the streets of London that the brief reminder it left behind as night ushered in was all the more reason to the cherish the moment.
The man on TV calls most London days “grizzly” – a mixture of grey and drizzly. I’ll take those most everyday if I could get an evening like that every night.
After my time on the pier I wandered along the path still with a pub and telly in mind, but instead I found something much better – a lane squeezed between two rising business conglomerates; the funky boutiques and quirky jewelry shops outlined by twinkling white lights which faced each other across a terrace of jumbled curly wrought-iron patio furniture, weather-beaten picnic tables, and gnarled stumps turned benches and chairs seemed impossibly out of place and almost too good to be true.
At the end of the lane my curiosity and my rumbling stomach got the best of me when I encountered a French crêpe shop advertising homemade soup and breakfast all day. They called themselves the French House of Crêpes – the French Hole in the Wall probably would have been more apt. The sign which advertised all this in blazing red, white, and blue was almost the size of the shop itself. Three tables and thrice as many chairs blocked in by giant refrigerator housing Fanta, Coke, and various juice and a counter piled high with plates, puce paint in the background and a wall menu the size of a snookers table (they must like their signs big) all came together in a charming, discombobulated, backwater-kind-of-way.
Peering between the towering plates I kept it simple and ordered the #1 off the savory menu – the cheese and ham crêpe. And savory it was. I enjoyed my crêpe whilst listening in on a group of boys, all but one (poor boy) fresh out of the puberty gate and nearly everything was “gorgeous.” (I’ll tell you this, eavesdropping is in the UK is far harder to do than in the states.) I’m not sure if a girl was gorgeous, a car was gorgeous, or if it was a football team that was gorgeous. Maybe it was all three. Or maybe the gorgeous one was me . . . I’m going to go with that theory because it’s the most probable. Once the boys left with a chorus of “cheers!” I was forced to turn to my reading for entertainment and after I’d studiously plowed through five pages I picked up my bag and left with a decidedly more American “thank you.”
I continued my trip down the Thames, now enshrouded in a darkened blue, still as beautiful but it seemed that with the dismissal of the sun the city had come back to life. That brief moment on the pier only an hour ago when I could imagine everyone had stopped to savor the beauty had been replaced by screaming girls and blaring taxi horns. My time with a London seemingly simple and frozen disappeared altogether as I stepped across the theatre threshold and into a mass of school uniforms all proudly bearing their school crest. Everywhere I looked there were children, sitting on the stairs, taking over the toilets, leaning against walls, and all in total neglect of that fundamental lesson we learn in elementary school – “inside voices.” The jazz band meant to entertain the waiting audiences could hardly be heard above the din and realizing that I wasn’t quite ready to break my solitude I promptly turned right around and exited the way I’d entered.
London is exciting for its shapes, sizes, smells, and of course, its people, but tonight I wanted more of the former and less of the latter. After all, sometimes people-watching is that much better when you can’t actually hear the people – especially when the only adjective in their vocabularies is a pitchy “gorgeous.”

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