Wwoofing Adventures #3

16 October 2008

12 June 2008

As I pray in St. Paul's Cathedral, a choir begins to sing...softly. The sopranos are light and the basses are gentle. I see the offering pouch I noted last summer, still beneath the candle stand and proclaiming in squeaky magic marker letters that I HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL. I also hear the thud click and ratchet of commercial tourism layering its tinny sound over their holy melody. Is it a fitting illustration of the old fight between God and mammon or am I overdramatic with sleep deprivation? The information booths and stands advertising guided tours for four pounds do seem to suck the marrow out of the cathedral as the stamps authorizing our right to enter thud and click, thud and click.
Setting out from the Bird's Nest after breakfast, we had returned to central London for our self-guided walking tour along the Thames. I loosely plotted a route from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey where we would also pass by the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge (officially known as the Millenium Pedestrian Bridge), St. Paul's, Leicester Square (for the half-price ticket booths Meagan and LeeAnn were anxious to peruse), and Covent Garden. Having been awake for a day and a half by then, plodding through London forced our bodies to keep up with the new time zone and provided us with a mental map of the area which we would visit for the next few days. It was gratifying to walk through my memories of London which had lain dormant since I returned from last summer's two literature classes, and whenever I spied something familiar I rejoiced in the clarity that comes from recognizing what you have not seen in awhile.

It was overcast and every-so-often it sprinkled, but I don't think we minded much; we were still amazed to be in England actually beginning our long-anticipated wwoofing adventure. "Can you believe we're here walking around?" we breathed, words which would be repeated and rearranged as our staple phrase for the next two months. It would crop up at all places in our conversations accompanied by never-flagging head shakes and exclamations: "Oh I know!" "No, no I really can't." All the nebulous dreaming and paper-laden planning now took on real textures and experience: the slippery slick stone of the pavement and the spitting precipitation of the London sky reminded us that we were indeed here at last.

Our elatement dipped at times throughout the day such as when LeeAnn could not find a working phone card and, bordering on hysteria, finally resorted to purchasing a rip off at a small shop, or I, teetering even closer to hysteria, couldn't find a bathroom and cursed myself at every step for drinking coffee and lots of water that morning. Yes, my elation dipped as my search for a toilet took me several blocks up and down the street until I finally gave in and entered Starbuck's, traitor to the British experience. I knew they had restrooms, however, so I bought some exorbitantly-priced fruit bread to justify my use of their facilities and returned to St. Paul's where we trudged up the hundreds of steps to the outer dome and my skirt caught the wind and flew up to my chin.

--Note to self: a light and airy skirt is inappropriate for windy days and climbing openwork metal staircases with fellow tourists climbing directly beneath you.

We trudged up Fleet Street and walked right past Dr. Johnson’s house; the rainy pavement sent our cold, flip-flopped feet skating; the bridge on the way to Covent Garden turned out not to be the bridge on the way to Covent Garden. Our enthusiasm and vigor waned as the afternoon wore on until we finally sought shelter beneath the columns of the Lyceum Theatre, chilled, wet, hungry, and tired.

We decided to head back to the Bird’s Nest and finish the route tomorrow.

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