After over a month of living in Spain and regularly lurching through my repertoire of ten or so vocabulary words, it was somewhat of a relief to be in London for the weekend, where I could once again request a glass of water and eavesdrop on the Tube. Andrew and I flew to London on Thursday night. My favorite part of EasyJet—and there aren’t many, it truly being bare bones, without even a cup of water available fee-free on board—is the small sign on the back of each seat reading “Seatbelts must remain fastened whilst seated.” It’s the “whilst” I love, such urbanity among the garish orange-clad flight attendants and the crumbs falling on my skirt from my airport-purchased sandwich. There’s also the somewhat shocking safety lecture, easily ignored on most flights but rather captivating here since it’s punctuated with copious instructions on what position to assume if we suddenly hear someone yell “BRACE! BRACE!” Brace, brace, is repeated several times.
This would be a meet-the-parents’-friends weekend for me, which was only fair after the large meet-and-greet we subjected Andrew to when he last visited Connellsville. We stayed with the friends in their lovely house near Abbey Road, steps away from the crosswalk where the Beatles photographed their Abbey Road album cover. The crosswalk traverses a busy street, but this doesn’t stop large groups of tourists (ourselves included) from darting out into traffic to have themselves photographed as they walk across the road.
On Friday we walked by the Thames and through the Tate Modern, where I saw old friends: lots of Rothkos, several Cindy Sherman prints, skinny Giacommetti figures standing together like fence posts. Things I’ve seen in New York, wandering around the MoMA on Friday evenings when admission is free. I always have a sense of dislocation when I see familiar artworks or works by familiar artists in unfamiliar places, as though I’m trespassing, or they are. But it’s also a kind of comfort: a bit of home. I saw a Diane Arbus retrospective in New York at the Met several months ago—then saw the same exhibition in Barcelona in February, at the museum we look out on from our balcony. I had an unexpected second look at an exhibition that had left New York for good.
London was dim and chilly, which fit the London I’ve had in my head thanks to recently reading Bleak House. On Saturday, it rained hard as we walked around Portobello Market, raindrops streaming from tarp-covered stalls. But it cleared enough for us to walk up Primrose Hill and around the shops nearby. We only scratched the surface of London during our weekend, but it was thrilling to be able to travel there so easily—it’s just a two hour flight—not for a whirlwind tour but for a stolen few days with Andrew’s family and friends.