Last week, I was a tourist. On Wednesday, I arrived at King’s Cross station at 8:18am to meet Cristina P. and Tara F., fresh from their wanderings in Italy. After extracting myself from the clutches of an Indian who was desperately trying to sell me a mobile phone (“Only £5 a day for the first two weeks!”), I managed to find my fellow Americans and their guide, British Tom. Remove the earrings and the haughty pucker from this man‘s countenance, and you have a fairly accurate representation of British Tom’s appearance.
We spent the rest of the morning at the Tower of London, a fortress that once imprisoned William Wallace, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cranmer, Guy Fawkes, and Rudolf Hess (though not at the same time). With tourists squeaking in every cranny, it was sometimes hard to imagine the darkness and the despair that once shadowed this place, but every so often, in the hollow of a stair or the slit of a window, you feel that the stones are very old and very tired, and that they still feel blood and screams from centuries and centuries ago. Then a lady with her hair chopped off at her ears will stumble through the doorway, gaping: “Oh my GAWD! It’s a tower.” And the rocks and timbers will patiently absorb the gasps and camera flashes.
After a delicious lunch of croque saumon fumé (I had a hard time not choosing the rocket salad until I realized that it was much less exciting than I thought), served by a waiter who seemed to wish he was back in France, the four of us headed off down the south bank of the Thames towards Westminster bridge. Walk for more than a mile in any city and you will always encounter some oddity, and London is as eclectic as they come. We passed a bevy of Miss Koreas, witnessed Darth Vader high-fiving a small child, gazed at a skull covered with 8,601 smallish diamonds, and spotted, towering above London’s skyline, the famous Gherkin. Finally, after many adventures, we landed safely in seats A20-A22 at the Queen’s Theatre to watch Les Misérables. (Alas, British Tom parted ways with our small band.) Jean Valjean and Javert playfully fought each other and harmonized with Marius and other gleefully intense Revolutionaries, while the audience grinned in their seats. It was wonderful.
That was just Wednesday.