This week has been rainy in Georgia. I’ve spent an unprecedented amount of time curled up on my couch knitting a new blanket and listening to the audiobook Maisie Dobbs, part of which takes place in Belgravia, London on Ebury Street.
A few years ago I boarded a plane in Portland, touched down in Minneapolis, and took off again only to find myself in London at 11 a.m. bleary eyed and smiling. I had been to Europe a few times prior, but never on my own. A week’s worth of clothes were tucked in my bag, books and movies downloaded on my iPad and the list was long of things to see and do.
I stayed in Belgravia on Ebury Street in a room the size of my suitcase. Breakfast was served every morning downstairs in the dining room around a small fireplace. Out front the quintessential black cabs slowed to a stop and the drivers, who study for four years before they can become taxi drivers, rolled down their windows and said “where to, love?”
It was so charming I found myself taking cabs everywhere. “Are you American?” they’d ask after hearing me call out places like The British Library or The West End. “Yes,” I’d answer then pause and ask “do I need to apologize to you for anything?” They’d laugh and inevitably ask me about the government, it was shutting down at that time too. I’d in turn ask them about the neighborhoods, architecture and high tea. Tea was indulged in. Frequently.
One of my favorite books is 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a 20 year series of real letters between a London bookshop employee and a New Yorker. I went to Charing Cross and wandered around Bloomsbury and stopped to sit in a park she liked during her first visit to London too.
I cried when I saw Jane Austen’s glasses and writing desk in The British Library and welled up again touring the Old Globe while watching a dress rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Books have informed so much of who I am. To be able to go and see tangible evidence of authors was so incredibly powerful that even on the train to Paris, walking its streets and sitting in its cafes, I was still running through the numbers of if I could live in London for a few months and how much it would cost. (A. Lot. A lot is how much it would cost.)
And so I listen to the British narrator and follow along as Miss Maisie Dobbs clips around London, has tea and investigates things just biding my time until I can get back to the crisp white houses with black gates and pale pink front doors, to the antique dealers Saturday mornings in Notting Hill, to tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tube I eventually got brave enough to take so comfortably people started asking me for directions.