England is in mourning. Football is over—for them anyway. So there hangs this pall over the town as people pick up the pieces and try to remember what they did before World Cup 2006.
I sympathize (you see, there’s this little thing in Canada called the Stanley Cup…). Seriously, it’s not because of the football that I sympathize: I’ve more or less been scratching my head since I arrived here in search of something to do, to see, to ooh and ah over. By that I mean I am in search of princes and castles, manors and moats—what I imagined England to be full of: beautiful gardens with trellised Ivy and English roses. Or traditional pubs oozing so much history that you half expect to see a couple of knights walk out exclaiming how delicious the roast beast was while rubbing their armor-clad bellies.
I should know better. I should remember almost two decades ago (although that is a long time) when I first landed in London and how I felt a tad bewildered and mildly disappointed that something…well…that something more royal didn’t happen. That crossing the Atlantic didn’t magically deposit me in Camelot. In fact, west of London, where I would be living, didn’t look all that different from the neighborhood I had just come from: mundane 60’s architecture, a pizza hut, and similar looking faces staring back at me.
Of course, once we discovered that marvel of public transportation (i.e. the tube) I did have more than a few Camelot moments, but I also grew quite fond of the not-so-fairytale-like London: the friendly East Indian who would keep his curry shop open that extra five minutes when he saw us come running, or the Chinese man at the dingy corner store who sweetly teased my roommate about her fondness for Diet Coke. And how can I forget the Long-Life milk (that I am still suspicious of to this day) and mushy peas. Or the two young busboys who giggled shyly and stared because they “ain’t never seen ladies drink pints before” (20 years later, I begrudgingly admit that half-pints have their merits, not the least being fewer calories).
I try to keep that rather clichéd mantra in mind, about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, because the town where I am staying does not afford many Camelot moments. Not beyond a glimpse of the clock tower or a venerable old church here and there (to be fair, there is a lovely park, just not on my side of town).
It’s a luxury that I can even consider my physical surroundings and long for more King Arthur and less Burger King, especially considering the struggles of so many people who just want to be free of violence and fear. And perhaps that’s good for now, that I am not swept away by princes (I’m sure my own prince appreciates this too). It allows me to focus on my work and to focus on a different kind of beauty: the kind that comes from people—people who continue to press on and help others despite horrible acts against them, their people, and their lands. I think of some of my fellow AP interns who are in places like Afghanistan and Palestine or New Delhi and Kosovo, places that are all too familiar with abject poverty or ongoing conflict or both. Amid what I imagine must be incredibly difficult surroundings, especially compared to here, it’s evident the beauty of the human spirit survives as was poignantly captured in one of their last blogs.
Still, thinking of those war torn places and poverty stricken lands makes my rather unexceptional little town in the northeast of England grow just a little bit prettier.
Posted By Lynne Engleman (United Kingdom)
Posted Jul 7th, 2014