When the missus turned forty, we celebrated with a cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage (See the reportage here, from the earliest days of this tired old blog). We had a magnificent time breathing clean air, feasting on real salmon, and punting bald eagles like footballs off the rocky coast of Sitka...
Her challenge to me was: When my own 40th birthday comes, I should have a trip in mind: She gets one, I get one. Fair enough, and the choice was simple.
So despite our plummeting economy, our worthless American dollar, and the insane cost of oil/gas and air travel, it's still London calling.
I've been fascinated by England ever since I was a pup, for a variety of reasons. There was the infectious enthusiasm of my dad's preaching about family pride and English heritage, for one thing.
"Family Pride"!?!? Never mind the genetic side-trip that the family took into Maryland Native American bloodlines, and it wasn't that long ago. Was it really a dark family secret, or just long forgotten? Because it was quite a meaningful thing to discover. Eastern Woodlands indigenous blood understands the world like caucasian blood never will (read Maurice Kenny's poetry for evidence). And it explained a lot about the look of his side of the family, and of my grandfather's uncanny sense of reality. Behind his stoic face, the man just KNEW what the hell was going on, down to the freaking MOLECULES.
So there was the Heritage head-trip, but WETA was also working on my psyche during childhood: It was my mother's Zenith TV with its late-'60s ivory and turquoise-colored plastic and the knobs that pulled off easily and if memory serves, it only got Channel 26 (WETA, DC's public TV station), which meant that most of my viewing consisted of Sesame Street and BBC reruns. Thus, I spent many days sitting on the floor in front of that glass eyeball, absorbing the culture of England from a small apartment on Viers Mill Road in Rockville, Maryland...
Then later on, there was that dreadfully awesome, unrequited obsession with Diana Rigg's Emma Peel character in The Avengers... Holy Bouncing Hell, I thought, I simply MUST visit this island nation which gifted us with this leather-clad, karate-chopping goddess...
Fast-forward to 2008. The old Zenith is history and Diana Rigg never returned any of my (unreal) phone calls.
Side note: Rigg turned 70 last week, and is still kicking, according to wiki, on the theater stages of England. Bravo.
And we still have this 40th birthday trip of mine to figure out.
Truly, if it wasn't for our friend and his London-based fiancee offering us their good company and a place to sleep, we'd never afford this. Therefore I can say with ironic glee that I, for one, WILL be spending my "economic stimulus package" -- just not the way the President intended.
Yep. Me and my "stimulus package" are gonna go "stimulate" a foreign economy. Seriously, Dubya: if you wanted the money to be SPENT (not stashed away in savings), and spent domestically, you should have handed out Best Buy coupons or something.
We'll happily do a few tourist things (ICA, Tate Modern, Tower of London, the Eye) but my big interest is in the true, everyday urban reality of London. I'm sure this is due to living in DC, another capital city where we're fond of complaining about slow-moving, mouth-breathing tourists clogging the Metro and making life generally miserable.
Only some of that tourist-bashing is fair, I'll admit. But it means I've become acutely aware of my own potential tourist-ness and will strive to remain blissfully invisible.
So like, any suggestions?
I'm making lists of the alleged BEST PUBS, RECORD STORES, and CURRY HOUSES in London. That would be the Intangible Arts Holy Trinity of any travel destination: pubs, vinyl, and curry. There will be side-trips to Newcastle and Edinburgh, so the Trinity Search also applies there.
As far as record stores go, it seems London's West End favorite Sister Ray is possibly shutting down, which is terrible news, since I was planning to "stimulate" a bit of economy in there as well. We might also catch an Arsenal match if we can wedge it in, and see how the game is played in the Motherland (no disrespect to DC United, I'm with you all the way)...
Eh. Much to absorb. But any recommendations in the comments would be cherished with gratitude.
[photo: outside the Burberry's shop on Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC 31july08]