David and Pop-Pop's Europe Trip
Growing up in Southern California, I never ate at diners. There just aren't very many, and those that do exist have other names such as Denny's.
When Ceri and I moved to Rochester there were diners everywhere, but I still never ate at them because they have very little vegetarian fare for Ceri.
But in London, Pop-Pop and I ate at pubs, which are like diners with better food, less variety, and dart boards.
Apparently the Prospect of Whitby is a very famous one. Pop-Pop said so, and it must be true because the city becomes especially maze-like near it. One of Pop-Pop's friends, Bob Dean, took us for dinner there. He had a difficult time finding it, but that was only the beginning of our experiences with Bob Dean getting lost while driving.
This week, with school just out, is a popular one for tourists; the hotel is a nice one not normally used by the tour company. We are next to the Tower Bridge, which is London's version of Disneyland, and also close to the Tower of London, which is more of a castle than a tower.
London does not have earthquakes, and many of the buildings are from as long ago as the fifteenth century. Major building-exterior cleaning was done after the days of the sooty air ended, but still the city looks grimy to eyes used to cities barely older than I am (if that). Even the famous places suffer. Big Ben is discolored, and Buckingham palace could use a fresh paint job. The local cure/compensation seems to be fences and the Tower Bridge. There are black metal fences, often tipped with gold arrow heads and adorned with heraldic devices, around all the important places and these fences are immaculate. The Tower Bridge is pained white with blue, gold, and red trim and is also spotless. But it is enormous, so it dominates its surroundings (such as our huge hotel, or the Tower of London) in a way the fences do not.
London is really refreshing. Nothing that is fundamental is different. But the chimneys are cute, the money is ornately multi-colored bills and coins so thick I want to peel them and eat the chocolate inside, the country-side is lush and green with red poppies and bright forests of short, thin trees, and of course driving is ridiculous.
I'm almost used to being on the wrong side of the road and using turning circles instead of intersections. But, sitting in the back seat while Pop-Pop's friend Bob drove us around, the rear view mirror is angled the wrong way and this for some reason is unnerving.
There are only two traffic laws in England: faster moving cars have the right of way and street signs must be painted in as many colors as possible. Jaywalking is a national sport, to the extent advanced jaywalkers use bicycles for efficiency's sake. There are apparently no seat belt laws, few speed limits (none are needed in the city, where the traffic is bursts of stop and go between signals), and absolutely no concepts of personal space. Everyone is continually cutting everyone else off in a civilized manner Californians would not have the patience for. Bob routinely would drive his jaguar up onto curbs to squeeze past an adjacent, stopped lane of traffic. Anywhere with decent visibility is suitable for a U-turn or K-turn. It's tremendous, everything anarchy is supposed to be: politeness, freedom, and efficiency.
Last night we went to a pub called the Prospect of Whitby. Today we spent time in Eton (where lies the ultimate prep. school), Windsor (much like the shopping areas of San Francisco, hilly and touristy, but with a castle), the sister towns of Marlow and Henley (Henley was having its annual regatta), and Grenwich (where I made a point never to check my watch). Highlights were The Complete Angler, a hotel named after a Christopher Marley book, which was exquisitely expensive, and the Cutty Sark, the only remaining clipper ship from the tea race days. I've been on Baker St. and seen the ball in Grenwich at the Royal Observatory that drops each day down its pole on a tower to create noon.
My senior year at Thacher I had an English class titled Modern European Fiction. The theme of that class (in which we read Camus, Mann, Hesse, Kafka, and others) was The fundamental problem with human beings is they are so ill suited for reality. This is the most important thing I know; everything else important is because of this. When I was in New Orleans the past summer I explored culture a lot. But today I realized that what I saw around me in London: monuments, tradition, courtesy in driving and talking and action, roles and expectations - all this was culture whose afftect was to center life around people, to make us more suitable for reality by making reality more about us. How different from Los Angeles, where dissatisfaction with your reality is fought by moving on, a better job or car or house or figure or reputation. And I think this is why in London they can drive politely, and have pubs instead of bars, and in so many ways not be as rushed.
At Heathrow airport, the signs do not say "exit", but "way out". London wasn't very "way out" these past two days, but perhaps it was enough so.