London Called, I Answered

London Called, I Answered

At first it was just a casual musing. “Gee, that study abroad semester in London sure was a lot of fun.” London was a happy memory while I went about the tedious business of adulthood. Trying out jobs, and cities, and questions. Sometimes things went well and sometimes they didn’t, but I started to wonder, “How hard would it be, really, to go back?” In this age of modern communication and convenience it turns out it’s not all that hard on paper. The other challenges I usually met with “Why should I go while I’ve got this going on?” until the last year or so when that became “Why shouldn’t I go?” This was enormously helped by my acceptance into what I hope will be a pretty cool graduate program.

The view from my bedroom...
The view from my bedroom…

Mere months later, after lining up every duck that got in my way, I’m here in London. This city of history, and accents, and Cadbury, the city that has spurred the best romance novels the world has ever seen, and supports the only monarchy anyone still cares about. It’s not exactly like I remember it- five years will do that to a place. But it’s still London. Full of delectable British people and an irrational number of fried chicken shops. As long as I don’t spend too much time in my tiny West London bedroom (must do something about these bare walls) I can remember why I came so far to walk on these streets instead of the ones back home.

St. Pancras Station

I’m not sure what scribe of fate had a hand in todays script for me, but they clearly had fun with it. After a very lovely and normal lunch date with a friend of a friend that I hope will lead to more friends I decided to walk to my new school that I had never seen in real life. Honestly, part of me wanted to make sure it was a real place. First, I walked the wrong direction down the right street, engaged in some very pleasant eye flirting with the dishy security man in front of the Renaissance hotel and ended up at the British Library. So I popped in to visit the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s writing desk and Henry VIII’s letters before turning around. As you do. The walking went on for a while, but I did find the school and persuaded them to let me wander about aimlessly. It’ll do, I think. Then I got lost trying to find a tube station hiding in a bend in the road.

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My university!

Made it to the platform only to hear “Ladies and gentlemen, there was a man on the track at Aldgate, the train will be 11 minutes late.” This is a very British and polite suicide report to which my fellow travelers replied with very quiet and insensitive grumbles. So we all mush onto the very late train and I snag a seat- of course, looking around avidly for a pregnant woman to give it to before she has a chance to glare at me when I take it. A couple stops before I get home, as I read the Evening Standard (my horoscope said that a big change in my life would make things confusing, but things would work out positively soon) a man on the train hands me a page ripped out from the book he was reading with his number written on it before stepping off. I smiled politely and when the doors closed me and a few other passengers/witnesses burst out laughing. I made it home only to tumble down the stairs from the platform when my ankles refused to take another step without an explanation for this crazy walking behavior.

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In the strange haze of jet lag I made it home with a skinned knee, a phone number, and a sudden urge to eat lots of dried cranberries. I managed to put together a slightly healthier dinner, ordered more pillows for my bed so that I can nest in them, and questioned all my life decisions before writing this and crashing while staring at a pile of half unpacked neutrally toned shoes.

Holy Moly Land

My staid existence was recently both stirred and shaken. This was not a particularly difficult thing to do, since as I mentioned before, very very staid. Coming off of months of teaching teenagers in return for a PDF (instead of money) I literally could not have imagined a better idea than fleeing the country. Israel took this challenge- to reinvigorate my very being- extremely seriously.

masada sunrise

From the first sleepy days in Tel Aviv thinking “gee, this looks a whole lot like Southern California” except for the whole I’m in Asia, and this is the Mediterranean part; to the last day in the Golan Heights, savoring every moment of the last sunrise over the hills and sheep before I had to leave, the trip was incomparably magical. I rode a camel, introduced s’mores to the country and climbed an ancient mountain in a 24 hour period. I made some friends and kissed some boys. And I may or may not have worn Ugg boots to a night club (I will never confirm).

My teacher tendencies only escaped my careful tethering when it came time to organize Shabbat. My lack of aptitude with Hebrew notwithstanding, I can power trip an event without trying. There was candy. And crafts.

I had the privilege to experience the supreme pleasure that is taking off 5 layers of clothes that I slept in and a sports bra, slathering my entire body in mud, and wading into the Dead Sea. And then the supreme honor to tour Yad Vashem mere weeks before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and seven months after my visit to the DC museum, under the tutelage of a fellow history teacher. Given my recent writings and rumination on my own family’s experience in this vein that day was particularly evocative. The Israeli people are incredibly open and engaged and refreshingly forthright. This meant I was told to eat new and delicious foods that I probably wouldn’t have chanced on my own, and enjoyed immensely, while deciphering Hebrew conversation- mostly through a thorough analysis of expressive body language and inflection. Turns out pasta should always have sweet potatoes in it.

israel cities sign

I saw Israeli soldiers with M16s across their lap texting their friends and Hasidic rabbis on scooters. Walked on three thousand year old stone pathways and touched a wall that has brought peace and hope to millions. My new Israeli friends gave me a new perspective on life with the realities of military service, managing interesting and unfounded stereotypes, and the importance of hummus. The only thing I could have asked for is to have stayed a little longer.

Everything about this trip felt like a much needed deep breath. And if the transitional space that I find myself in results in a return trip, then so be it.

Off to a Sexy Start

I was always completely aware that the trip to Israel was going to be much worse than the trip in Israel. A redeye from LA followed by an 11 hour flight to the promised land on an airline that promised to interrogate me. All of those dreams did come true.

In my ever logical and valiant efforts to arrive  in Israel relatively bright eyed I resolved to stay awake all of Saturday night and sleep through the long haul flight. In this pursuit I decided that eight new books might be adequate to keep me occupied and awake. Little did I know I wouldn’t need any of them. By fate, or possibly a fatal combination of obliviousness and tenacity, I kept the poor man sitting next to me up for 5 hours; and he kept me up.

First, there was the mandatory tail feather flaunting of what schools we went to and what enviable jobs we have had. And then we had to prove how clever and smart we were. But then hours  passed in a haze punctuated by in depth literary analysis, rather  intimate commentary on our lives thus far  and candid musings on our  purpose and very selves. The flight crew, who were already striving for new levels of on board cheek, gave us a bottle of wine, and we drank it- at three in the morning. This, of course, both mellowed and intensified an already heady conversation, though wine did feel more appropriate than breakfast.

He decided he knew me well enough to flick me when I was being cute, and I decided he might be allowed to finish his own sentences instead of amusing myself with my own endings.

As any heroine would, I wrote my name in the back of his novel, and left him enigmatically at the gate. All before I ever left the country.