Illuminating London #AmWriting

By the time I cleared customs at Heathrow Airport it was 7:30 AM. I strode outdoors with other travelers and headed toward the glaring Virgin Atlantic sign, where I hoped to find the Tube. Dawn’s breeze, mostly fresh with a hint of vehicle exhaust, brushed my face. Fuchsia lights lit the outdoor ceiling.

Before leaving for London, my husband and I discussed the length of days in January compared with our New Hampshire home. We learned that the sun would rise at approximately 8:00 a.m. in both locations, but evening would come more than an hour earlier in the United Kingdom, ending my daylight adventures at approximately 4:15 p.m. Since I’d be in class until 11:30 a.m. daily, I’d have less than five daylight hours to see the city. After that, the Gothic, Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture would be hidden until the next day.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.  London is a city of lights. From the time the sun slips behind the last buildings, until its morning rays brush the spiky bulbous tops of London planetrees, street lamps light sidewalks and recessed lighting brightens stairs. The London Eye’s bulbs creates a red Coca-Cola circle around far-off buildings. Below the Eye, the London Aquarium’s Edwardian baroque architecture is softened by aqua uplights. Across town, the Romanesque Natural History Museum glows pink, gold, and blue in subtle white lights, while its merry-go-round is a jeweled crown, golden in the night.

Each display was carefully planned by lighting experts, who complemented the texture, materials and style of the building with their displays. Most likely they took into account the impact the outside lights would have upon people entering, exiting or working within. According to lightingstyles.co.uk, misplaced uplights can create glare and light pollution.

Last night, after enjoying Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, I strolled under brightly-lit marquees from the Apollo Theatre to the Piccadilly Circus station, thinking about the impact of night-lighting on our environment. Research conducted by the Natural History Museum in conjunction with UNESCO found that since the early 1990’s light visible from space has decreased by 28%. Yet since then, there’s been a 39% increase in dimly lit areas. Insects don’t breed as efficiently, which leads to less food for birds and bats. Birds, which mostly hunt by day, have increased hours for seeking food, but interrupted sleep patterns. Bats, which hunt by night to avoid most of their avian predators, have fewer unlit locations available, endangering their survival.

I turned slowly on the London sidewalk, taking in the colors and flashing lights and bright marquees. Some were garish. Some were beautiful. I thought about my home and how I can step outside, look up, and see hundreds of stars beyond our white pines. Then our dogs will trip a sensor, washing the backyard in cold white light. I make a mental note to rethink our own outdoor lights, perhaps shortening their on-time, changing to warm colors, which are better for wildlife, and redirecting the lights away from the woods.

I turn from the city lights, and move with the crowd into the bright white Piccadilly Circus station.

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Intrepid Women at Kew Garden #AmWriting

When I stepped from the London Underground’s platform into the District of Kew, I knew I’d made the right choice to spurn museums for the outdoors. Blue sky was brush-stroked with clouds, the city’s noontime bustle was behind me, and the Kew Royal Botanic Garden lay ahead.

I’d arrived in time for one o’clock tea, so I relaxed at The Botanical to sketch out my must-see sites. I sipped peppermint tea and savored two seared scallops with arugula, and caramelised onion and pea purées. Each taste painted my palete bitter, salty, and sweet, layering until forming a complete composition.

Still, I finished my meal quickly, wanting to explore the fire-bright wood garden just beyond the pond; wanting to see Wolfgang Buttress’s The Hive, an artistic exploration of our honeybees. I wandered slowly, snapping photographs. The fresh air mixed with the fragrant maple scent of flowering Escallonia illinita, native to South America.

I explored the geometric metal hive from below and climbed to the top to watch the lights flicker off and on, mimicking a hive’s complex communication system. From the top of the structure I noticed the trees and gardens were swarming with workers. I worked my way down and asked a groundskeeper about the activity.

“Some crews are removing the Christmas decorations, but our responsibility is cleaning the bulb beds, to get them ready for the spring,” answered Maija, tugging dried fronts from the ground.

For each question I asked, Maija responded with one of her own. Soon she discovered I was taking a travel writing class and that I was supposed to be a museum today, but didn’t want to leave.

“We have an art galleries here,” she said. “Have you heard of Marianne North? She was a Victorian woman who began painting in her forties. From 1871 until 1885, she traveled six continents, painting more than 1,000 plants.”

I’m constantly taking photos of insects, plants, and flowers. Maija saw I was eager to learn about North, who at mid-life was bold enough to travel a male-dominated world to explore her passion for nature. The groundskeeper warned me the gallery would close early.

As I hurried away, I watched people leave the pavement and walk through the grass, shortening the distance to their destinations. I followed. The grass in front of me was worn creating a “desire path”. These are paths that people choose to follow, flouting prescribed routes. It seemed fitting that Kew Garden, keeper of the plucky North’s collection did not discourage these off-road jaunts.

I pushed open the door of the Marianne North Gallery revealing two small wood-paneled rooms with tile floors of geometric russet, black and tan. Oil paintings were in floor-to-ceiling columns, wall-to-wall rows, orderly and efficient, color and composition, insects, birds, mountains, and flora. There was Niagara Falls, not yet dominated by high-rise buildings and neon lights. There was Hindu jasmine, South African water lilies, and Java’s slender walking stick. There were hundreds of paintings, each placed by North, herself. The bottom foot of the walls was paneled with wood she’d carried back from far-off countries.

I asked Rosemary, a gallery volunteer if people often return. “Again and again,” she said. “I’ve worked here two years, and I still find paintings I haven’t seen.”  Marianne North had minimal training. She only began painting after her father’s death.

I left Kew Royal Botanic Garden, pleased to have discovered Marianne North, that audacious forty year-old artist, who dared to create her own path of desire.

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When the Journey Becomes the Destination #AmWriting

The GoldenTours’ bus was one stop light and 100-feet away, idling at Stop 22, St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I shifted from one foot to the other, whispering “change, light, change” and praying the bus wouldn’t pull away. Traffic finally stopped. I stepped off the sidewalk as the pedestrian light switch to green and jogged to the bus.

“Is this the bus going to the Tower of London?” I dug through my too-small purse, hunting for my bus pass.

“Yes. Yes. This is the bus.” The driver smiled broadly and nodded his dark-haired head. I noted his accent. It wasn’t British.

“I’d hoped to be at the Tower by one. It’s already…” I looked at my watch and did the math. I’d only have two hours for my tour. I sighed. “It’s already 2:15.”
I held out some papers, not even sure if the ticket was among them. Still smiling he said, “No need.”

I thanked him and fell into the first seat behind the stairs. I tapped my foot on the floor and stopped only when the bus pulled forward. I stuck in my earbuds and open my worn GoldenTours map. Only five stops to go. I traced the path, studied the distance from stop to stop. My heart sank. We still had to travel one-third of the map.

“It’s okay. You only need an hour and a half at the Tower,” called the driver.

I wanted to tell him Rick Steves’ London 2019 says I need three hours. Instead I nodded.

I’d had a plan—I’d hop from red bus to the yellow bus then to orange and cut across London, staying on the straightaways and skipping the scenic detours. It would’ve been a good plan, had there been a yellow bus. There wasn’t. I had to walk the yellow bus’s route.
Shoulders back, I had walked along Piccadilly. I’d rushed past the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason. For a brief second I slowed as I passed the Royal Academy of Arts. I longed to go in. But no. I had Tower tickets and no time to waste. Once again I picked up my pace: first Haymarket, then Pall Mall. I headed for the gray lump of a statue on the GoldenTours’ map.

This time I slowed. Then stopped. I pieced together where I was. The map’s lump of gray was Trafalgar Square. There were fountains, lions, and Admiral Horatio Nelson was 170-feet overhead. Was that the National Gallery? I snapped some photos and wondered, how does anybody decide what to see in London? And I ran for the bus.

As we waited at the Covent Garden stop, for what I did not know, I asked the driver, “Where are you from?”

“Spain,” he said. He told me he came to London seven years prior for work. He didn’t miss Spain, yet he spoke of his home with pride. “My name is Aritz. It’s a Basque name.”

Basque is the oldest language in Europe. According to Culture Trip, the Basque language is a “linguistic mystery”, and existed before Romance languages. At the next stop Aritz called me up to the cab again. He scribbled a map of Spain on a dirty envelope and placed two dots in the northeast corner. Starting with the point nearest to France, he said, “This is my town, and this is the Guggenheim.” Both are in the heart of the Basque-speaking region that encompasses northeast Spain and southwest France.

For the remainder of the trip I sat in the high seat to the left of the cab. Aritz pointed out his favorite London sites and spoke of his home in Spain. He delivered me to the Tower of London in time for an hour and half tour, but it is today’s journey to the Tower that will not be forgotten.

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A Few #ShortStories for You

In September 2017, I enrolled in the University of New Hampshire’s MFA in Writing program with two goals: (1) learn how to write a compelling short story, and (2) learn how to publish short stories.  I have far to go in the program, but wanted to share some of my early successes with you.

Recently, several of my flash fiction stories and prose-poems have been published on-line. If you click each icon below and read and like the story, please let the on-line publisher know. You can either click “Like” or promote the publisher’s page by Tweeting or sharing on Facebook.

The Copperfield Review: The Forester’s Soup

 

Gravel: Light the Way Home

Scarlet Leaf Review: Prose Poems

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you all for your support as I continue my writing journey.

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Considering #Perception

Yesterday I posted a photo to Instagram. The last streetlights still shone as the sun rose behind the maple trees in Durham, New Hampshire. The sunrise sparked upwards, yellow and orange, splattering red out and up, and fading to gentle pink and blue. It occurred to me, even as I enjoyed a stunning sunrise unlike any I’d seen before, that our neighbors out west might perceive this fiery display as something to fear.

I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by how the same situation, event, video, or person can be perceived so differently depending on each person’s past experience. For example, there is a video playing on our local university’s home page. In it, smoke fills the air. People are screaming. The first time I saw the video, I watched horrified, wondering what terrible event had occurred over the weekend. With the second viewing I realized that it wasn’t smoke and screaming I was viewing. It was chalk dust and laughter as fans celebrated a football game kick-off.

college

But was my initial perception that far off? I asked several co-workers, all who say that they were at the football game that day and it was so much fun. Or they said, “Obviously, it’s a football game.” I’ve yet to find anybody who had the visceral reaction to this video that I had. Yet, look at war photos from overseas. Remember September 11, 2001.

The football game video still plays. I still avert my eyes.

Thirty some-odd years ago, I married. While planning our wedding Mass, my mother and I were discussing the final blessing. I had selected The Blessing of Aaron (Numbers 6:24-26). I wanted it sung using the same composition I had learned in my high school’s Glee Club.  That rendition is similar to the one below, performed by the Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Viking Choir.

~sigh~   ~so beautiful~

Mom wasn’t enamored with my choice. “You do know that Aaron was being blessed before he went to war,” she said. “Do you really think that it’s an appropriate blessing for a wedding?”

Now forget for a moment whether her interpretation of the passage is correct. It is what she believed. She perceived the blessing would invoke conflict.

I remember pondering her words. It saddened me to think the blessing’s peaceful lyrics were a battle-cry.  Then it occurred to me, perhaps it was the perfect blessing for a marriage. My husband-to-be and I would commit “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.” We’d have each other’s backs. We’d stand side-by-side. In gratitude we’d accept all that the world offered and mourn all it would take away.

For me, The Blessing of Aaron wasn’t preparing us for marital conflict. Rather it blessed us as we joined forces, binding our lives together.

Powerful perception. Use with care.

 

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