class | Meandering
in a bottle | That
old-time religion | "Dr.
. . Robyn Ross
BY DAY, we're wide-eyed study abroad students. By night, we're spies of
international intrigue, going deep undercover into the heart of London.
'99 and I write to you -- on disintegrating paper with invisible ink --
from the Janet Poole House, a delightful place to live, with the exception
of the constant smell of incense in the hall and the paper-thin walls
that let every tiny noise slip through. Our neighbors upstairs are hip
American kids who listen to hip American music on a hip American stereo
that makes the need for our tiny speakers obsolete.
night we enjoy figuring out what alternative hits are playing by listening
to the rhythm of the bass and their excellent singing. Our room is well-furnished
with beds as wide as ladyfingers, a refrigerator as tall as a 3-year-old
child and a table as big around as a Ritz cracker. On our walls we have
an excellent collection of art that we have stolen from the major galleries
window we can see the British Telecom tower, which does not exist. Official
maps of London leave it off for fear of terrorist attacks, because after
all, terrorists always go by the maps. We can also see into the back windows
of several buildings that face us, which makes for interesting late-night
entertainment. We suspect we've seen a couple of murders, hundreds of
illicit trysts and one nude cartwheel, but no one has seen us watching
because we wear sunglasses.
words to remember when living in London are SMALL and FREQUENT. These
apply to most standard activities -- laundry, dishwashing, cashing of
travelers' checks. The washing machines of England are approximately the
same size as the kitchen sinks, which are as large as a deck of cards,
so clothes are washed with regularity and precision. But most importantly,
the aforementioned words describe trips to the grocery store. Food is
fleeting. A standard loaf of bread develops a green cast after three days,
and Mr. Extra Fresh Super Bread goes bad after four. Milk is generally
dated two days after the day of sale and exudes a suspiciously rich odor
after a few hours. Most other products come with warnings: use within
three days of opening (orange juice); use within five minutes of purchase
(yogurt). I have applied for a grant to study refrigeration in hopes of
alleviating this problem.
is fun, especially if you like corn. Corn is served on everything: tuna
salad, cheese pizza, salad, chocolate ice cream. It's handy, because vegetables
are otherwise difficult to find. A popular travelers' cliché holds that
there is no ice in Europe, and that water is not served at meals except
on request. All this is true, but in addition to their water shortages,
restaurants seldom have any change for increments of money more than 20
pence. I have yet to decide if this is merely a scheme to generate higher
tips, because sometimes tips are not required. Service is included in
prices at some restaurants, excluded at others, and one often forgets
to find out this piece of information when ordering. The result is a cleverly
orchestrated ruse of ordering dessert, with the real goal obscured by
admiring glances at the strawberry cheesecake and toffee-banana sundae,
topped with corn.
of London are rich and varied. On the first full day here our group took
a bus tour around the city, during which we learned numerous entertaining
facts completely without context. For example, the last public hanging
in England took place on the same site where the Beatles performed their
early hits, which were based on Celtic anthems of love translated backwards
by a left-handed unicyclist. At the end of the tour we had a quiz, and
the person who remembered the most obscure facts won tickets to a peep
show in Soho.
Lesley and I have been to the National Gallery once, the Tate Gallery
twice, the Imperial War Museum three times and the National Portrait Gallery
not at all. We plan to pose for one of the illegal street artists in Trafalgar
Square and try to get our portraits added to the rest of the ones in there.
Over fall break Lesley went to Paris, where she visited the Louvre. Security
was tight, but she managed to fit the Venus de Milo in her backpack. When
we visit the crown jewels, Lesley will distract the guards while I snatch
the Royal Punch Bowl and Coronation Spoon.
rest of the semester, we plan to visit as many museums as possible. Although
we're right down the street from it, we have yet to visit the British
Museum; its Reading Room is the famous library where Karl Marx wrote Das
Kapital, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, and Martin Luther King Jr.
wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. We also plan to visit an art
museum that currently has a display of hundreds of one-ton metal casts
of the human body. Maybe we can sneak some of those back to the Janet
Poole House as well.
that there are a lot of people here. I've met some of them. Their names
are Matthew, Midge, Howie and Eduoard DíAraille, and we have all been
introduced at various teas and proms. We talk of Nabokov and Rand, television,
culture and imperialism. Sometimes we crook our little fingers. Sometimes
I get angry because they insist on speaking with accents. I also hear
lots of other languages spoken on the streets and in the tube. By the
time I return, I will have mastered French, German, Swedish and Underground
Operator: "*#&$# delays, #$ alternate bus service." (TCU is offering
a test for course credit in this language as part of its new London Center
not an especially child-friendly city. Babies are only seen folded up
in bolts of cloth and plastic wrap and strapped into steel strollers designed
to cross streets at a speed fast enough to avoid annihilation. Young children
are dragged along by the hands of smartly dressed parents galloping down
the pavement to their next meeting. Pre-teens are sometimes spotted reading
Far Side comics at the bus stop, but they always have on stiff school
uniforms. While it's fun to study here, I don't think this is where I
want to raise my family.
I must go now, because the computer lab where we type our letters is about
to close. It is only open for 18 minutes every other Thursday, which makes
word processing difficult, but such are the English nuances we must adapt
to for our study-abroad experience, er, I mean tangled web of espionage