Sunday, April 02, 2006

London Calling, Paris Burning?

Arrived safely yesterday morning in London. Had a bit of a challenge getting to the hotel in Bayswater (very close to Kensington Gardens, home of the mansion where Princess Di once lived) from Heathrow, but it all turned out fine in the end, and we were even able to check-in to our hotel room early so we could nap. But this only after we had our first full English breakfast, which reminded me a lot of Filipino breakfast (garlic fried rice, fried egg, and some kind of meat), only in London they give you toast instead of rice, of course. Pretty flavorful stuff, not bad. They even gave us a nice grilled tomato on the side.

The weather here is much like it is in the San Francisco Bay Area right now--partly cloudly, intermittent showers, a bit chilly. The sun was shining bright and beautiful for much of yesterday morning, however, making me feel as if the city was welcoming us with open arms.

Jet lag is a bitch, I have to say. We took a red eye out of Boston to London, arriving around 8am, and didn't get too much sleep on the flight. Who can sleep for more than hour sitting up in a space the size of a tiny closet? And then when we got here the sun was just rising over the horizon, the city just waking up to a surprisingly busy morning commute. Tourists, I'm guessing, and locals making their way to shops, a home decorating show that was going on in the city. We took a couple naps yesterday to try and compensate for the lag, but my body's still on Pacific daylight savings time, which right now would be 4:20am!

Went to the Tate Modern museum yesterday, a brilliant place (do I sound British yet? ;-)). All the big museums' main collections have free admission--ah, to be governed by a much-less-than-perfect Labour party still has its advantages--which is great since H. and I don't have a lot of money to spend on sightseeing (especially given the fact that the pound is worth roughly twice as much as the dollar right now). The Tate is housed in an old industrial factory in a seemingly desolate part of town, one that I'm guessing is in the throes of gentrification. All the signs are there--fashionably gritty industrial warehouses, a random fancy restaurant or two, a tiny black box theater tucked away in between--and the Tate I'm sure is helping to rapidly advance that trend.

The museum itself was stunning--a giant box of a space with a very phallic tower rising from its middle, topped by a strange purple-blue-lit observation deck (I think, we didn't get to go all the way up there). We saw a Pollack, a Picasso, a Matisse, some Calder mobiles in the 'Abstract Expressionism' section, an interesting installation of a giant concave, spoon-like sculpture that you can stand within, its reflective dark-red surface making you feel dizzy and claustrophobic and stimulated at the same time.

I've observed some interesting things about the British--well, maybe Europeans is a more accurate term, since there are so many German and French tourists here. Personal space is a very different thing here than in the U.S. (or California, at least). More than once I experienced a little discomfort because people (all white, but I really don't think that was the only reason for their ease at taking up space) would walk very close to me, or nearly collide with me, despite my best efforts to avoid doing so, and they didn't seem to mind, it seemed to them only a matter of course, that we were all in a space together, and that bumping into each other was bound to happen. For example, a British woman on the Underground brushed heavily against H.'s legs as he was sitting and she was walking past him. She mumbled 'Sorry' but it wasn't resentful, and she didn't pull away as quickly as she could (which is what would happen back home), as if his touch were burning her. She just kept moving along at the same pace.

For some reason this really strikes me, because I think this lack of obsession with personal space (relative to what I observe amongst my fellow Americans back home in the states) say something. Does it point to a greater sense of collective belonging? Of more ease within one's own bodies? Of less fear of others? Of none or all of these? All I can say for sure is that while it's jarring, it's also somewhat comforting, that I don't have to expend as much energy as I normally do back home avoiding any and all physical contact with the strangers (and friends) that may be close by.

Lastly, been following the news about the ongoing protests in Paris, because last week the protests grounded a third of the flights coming out of the city. Protests have turned violent, I read, although I wonder how much of that is property destruction, how much is fighting with the police, etc. Supposedly, no tourists have been injured. But I'm such a cynical reader that I have to find three stories to corrobate something before I'll begin to think of it as 'true'. Especially when the stories about protests.

There are demonstrations being called for Tuesday, April 4, the day we are supposed to fly into Charles de Gaulle. And while I support the protesting students, I am beginning to fret a little that our travel plans--both to Paris and to Rome, since we were to fly out of Paris--will be disrupted. The U.S. Embassy is warnings its citizens traveling in Paris to avoid large gatherings, as Paris police have been using tear gas to quell protests. (And me without my water-soaked bandanna, damn.)When I told him that I was both worried and excited about traveling to Paris during such intense movement activity, my boss joked that H. would have to be my personal line monitor/security person--to hold me back from jumping into the fray.

No matter what hpapens, if I've learned one thing so far on this trip, it's that part of the beauty of traveling is letting go, of being open to and experiencing a given moment for what it is, and learning something from it. The exact kind of thing that is easy to avoid being back home in our comfortable, sheltered environments. What will be ironic, I'm guessing, is that so much protest is happening around me (back home in California, mostly Latino students continue to walkout in protest of a horrid anti-immigrant bill being debated in Congress) but I will most likely not take part in it. It's where my life is at right now, as much as the young radical within me wants to be a part of the action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Rona,
Very cool to hear about you traveling. I'm really happy for you.

Even if you're in support of the student protests, I hope that they don't mess too much with your travel.

I liked your comments on personal space. Yeah, I think it's a U.S. thing to require so much space. I have mixed feelings about the reduced space in other places (in my case, Latin America). I usually don't mind it, except for two cases: one, while waiting in line and someone is so up against me that they are practically humping my leg, and two, when someone talks face to face from way too close. All in all, I try to adjust and just deal with it. But, remember also that you are a tourist and if someone is bumping up against your backpack too much you should make sure that it's not to open it up... :-) No need to be paranoid, but don't be naive either.

Have a great trip. I need to get to some museums here in Buenos Aires. We've just being doing family things so far.