Thursday, July 19, 2012

Letter from London

Letter from London

Greetings from the home of Wimbledon, clotted cream and police officers in very tall hats. The streets are festooned with Union Jacks as the Queen only just celebrated her jubilee and the city catches a quick breath before the Olympics come to town. It is an exciting time to be in England though I wonder if many of the athletes or visitors will actually meet any real English people when they come to witness great feats of physical prowess.

Every taxi driver, waitress, hotel clerk and random people in elevators, have told us that they will get out of London as the spectators, athletes and other folks related to the Olymics begin to arrive. One taxi driver says that he really believes the city is not yet ready for the influx and predicts that he will make far more money from the steady business people than he will fighting the voluminous traffic predicted for those weeks.

Which makes me wonder: why would you want to hold such a gargantuan event in a relatively compact city on an island? It can’t possibly be that lucrative. According to the OutLoudLondon website, the city can expect to haul in 10 billion pounds or about $1.5 billion. But they have spent about 490 million pounds or upwards of $768 million on the 80,000 seat Olympic stadium alone. This does not include the vast preparations and other infrastructure needed to host the expected 500,000 spectators. The place is already pretty crowded. Where will they put all the extras?

I had the great good fortune to go to Wimbledon and see Novak Djokovich emerge victorious and I can attest that the strawberries they serve there are truly the most delicious anywhere on the planet. Seems a bit odd to have fruit as a specialty at a sporting event, but I guess it is a nod to a long-standing tradition.

It felt strange to me to be in a foreign country and already know the language and be able to read all of the signs. I will confess that I sometimes wondered if the words coming out of some people’s mouths were actually English as I found them incomprehensible. There are so many dialects of our mother tongue and so many interesting idiomatic expressions. For example, we searched high and low for a tube to take us across town only to discover that this is another word for subway. How about telly? It is not a telephone but a television that people watch in the evening while munching on crisps and drinking a cuppa. (Cup of tea, that is.) They wear jumpers instead of sweatshirts, bird-watching does not pertain to feathered creatures but young ladies, and a lorry cannot travel in the cars only lane. In a hotel lobby a hundred people can be speaking English but if they come from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, south London, Buckingham Palace or even the colonies, the sound is not harmonious.

London is an extremely lively city and despite the relatively dismal weather, it is fun to wander around and watch the people. We nicked into a pub for a pint and some bubble and squeak. My friend enjoyed bangers and mash.  We sat at the windows facing Oxford Street and enjoyed a parade of outfits, and the struggles of bag laden fashionistas tottering along from store to store. Shopping apprears to be a national pass time. I observed the driving habits of Londoners and suspect that driving school must not be mandatory to obtain a license. Thoughtfully, however, there are signs painted on the ground at the crosswalks directing you to look right or look left for oncoming traffic. This can be downright confusing as the English drive on the left side of the road. How in the world do they navigate round abouts?

The taxis are called black cabs though most of them are no longer black. They are decorated with bright advertising for everything from cell phones to beer. They are squarish and have a very practical design. You step into what feels like a room with bench seating along the back and pull down seats behind the driver. Four adults can sit very comfortably, along with a bunch of luggage. There is no awkward sliding and scrunching to fit only three New Yorkers into the back of a yellow cab. The drivers have a similar technique, however, with lots of zipping and quick turns.

I will depart this lovely city by Eurostar train, heading to Paris. Compared to taking a flight, this mode of transport will be faster, cheaper and far less complicated. That said, my claustrophobic self will try to ignore the fact that the train travels via Channel Tunnel or Chunnel, for more than a half hour. Under the water. In a dark tube. When I see the glorious countryside of northern France I will breathe more easily. That part of the letter, my friends, will wait for another day.

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