This past weekend I visited my American friend Betsy in her current home, London, UK. This was a special trip on lots of fronts:
1. I haven’t seen anyone from my Boston life since we moved here.
2. A journey to England in 2004 was my first-ever trip outside of North America. I had a great time and gained confidence in my travel abilities by starting with an English-speaking country. Which brings me to point three…
3. They speak English there! All the time! Voluntarily! I arrived in London on Friday via the Eurostar—the train that goes under the English Channel and a little bit freaky if you think too long about being underwater on a train—and when I came up in St. Pancras Station… bliss.
I could read everything: Billboards! Newspapers! Maps! I could understand what people were saying: Train conductors! Coffee baristas! Random strangers! Oh English, I’ve missed you. [I did have a confusing dialogue going on in my head: I would think the Dutch response to something when it wasn’t necessary, or find myself playing my mental game of “Could I Have Said That in Dutch?” And when my flight came to Amsterdam Sunday night and the primary language of things reverted, I felt a little sad. It is hard work trying to keep up with a language you don’t fully know.]
On Saturday, we made a literary pilgrimage to Oxford. We are both former members of the illustrious, Cambridge-based, now-disbanded Harry Potter Book Club and easily excited by all things Harry and books in general. We began our morning in Blackwell’s book shop and quite nearly spent the entire day there. It wouldn’t have been hard, and it wouldn’t have been a waste, either, perusing and chatting over books. We spent a great deal of time judging books by their covers; notably, these books:
Bloomsbury has recently released the entire Harry Potter series with covers that truly blow the previous batch out of the water, particularly the UK covers. Although we debated long and hard about purchasing somewhere between one and seven of these as souvenirs, in the end, we reminded ourselves of the true cost of the UK pound and backed away slowly.
Oxford is also home to Christ Church College, former haunt of Lewis Carroll and filming location for select scenes in the Harry Potter films. There is nothing like an imposing academic institution on a glorious early spring day to make you suddenly wonder: “What sort of excuse would I need to go back to school here?”
The last major stop on our literary tour (though there could have been many others) was for dinner at The Eagle and Child, a pub famous as the weekly meeting place for more than twenty years of writers known collectively as the Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others. I had been here once before, but maybe because I’m more serious about writing than I was seven years ago, this visit felt meaning-charged. If you don’t know, Lewis and Tolkien are two of my most favorite writers; and so it is lovely to know that they were friends and to sit in a pub where they would discuss the stories that became The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t normally go in much for celebrities or sites a famous person visited, but it seems different with these two. I enjoyed my pint in their old haunt thoroughly.
As we made our farewells to Oxford later that evening, I wondered when I will have occasion to return. It is the kind of setting that seems to inspire new thoughts and reflections, and so I look forward to whenever that next visit occurs.