I am sitting in Bello Coffee down the hill on what can only be described as day four of post-UK and realizing what is probably obvious to everyone else – that I am the oldest person in the café. Well, looks are deceiving, so it is possible, barely possible, that the “old lady” who recently vacated the table by mine has a year or two on me. Same for the “old guy” slouched in the chair against the wall. But I have my doubts. Somehow this day I reign as the oldest. And precisely what this means still eludes me. I was thinking these profound thoughts as one not-so-old guy approached and asked if I had ever lived in Jerusalem. Because, finally, I looked just like….
One thing is beyond question – the general impact of travel. Which manifests diffusely. At times, I insist, an entire trip, or even the prospect of one, can spread unevenly and fairly subtly around my lower back and sides. Not one particular pain but the presence of a sort of chorus of musculoskeletal complainants, none very loud, but all in sync and hitting one unpleasantly sustained note.
Too much sitting, that’s the culprit. Whether it was the cramped train from Durham to Edinburgh or the less cramped one from Edinburgh to King’s Cross, London, well, it doesn’t matter. Somewhere, somehow, it was all too much.
But on the brighter side, let us note that Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight” is a profoundly satisfying novel. The author of “The English Patient” remains a master of the evocative. And in this case he is evoking the years after, just after, the close of World War II, the time of my birth. Here in the States, all eyes were on the future and to the domestic. Baby Boomers, the G.I. Bill, America rebuilding, its economy expanding. Lots of other things were going on in the UK. What were they, and their lasting importance, and how much one needs or does need to know about life…well, that’s why people write novels.
As an old guy, my eternality is rather suspect, so I look upon London through a particular lens. The place seems unstoppable. Just consider the number of construction cranes. Just look at the City, the square-mile that comprises much of the world’s financial activity. Or look, but mostly imagine, CrossRail. Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, this subterranean connection of mainline and tube-style trains, is actually nearing completion. At Paddington Station, things are almost ready to open. Yes, there is a shortage of money, the UK now being in a chronic government crisis. But never mind. Open it will. And what does this all mean for anyone or anything?
Brexit showed no sign of resolving. But almost everyone among family, and certainly anyone under 50, was in despair. Enough to make one enjoy smaller pleasures, such as smoked fish. The UK exceeds at this. I had some every morning. Only one or two curries, actually, this once seemed the Mexican food of England, to a California guy in his twenties. I did grow to love Indian food. I still do. But British cuisine, or world cuisine in Britain, now offers so many options, you can look beyond vindaloos and bhadjis. But you can’t look very far beyond the airport and the prospect of coming home. Home. Be it ever so humble.