self portrait with turkey feathers. in class on a holiday.
to distract me because I needed it. that is all.



Because it is relevant to my last post and because I read it last week and have yet to stop thinking about it:

To the Londoner of my generation, the London sky has another dramatic significance which—once our present boredom  with the whole subject is overcome—is memorable. It has been a battlefield. One day in 1940 in the entrance hall of the BBC I heard the sirens howl. One of the maternal ladies at the reception desk called out, "Air Raid, please" (one is inclined in London to say "please" for everything, and one must certainly say it out of deference if a V.I.P. like the Angel of Death is announced), but she was in fact telling the boys to close the steel shutters. I shall not forget that large white cloud bellying against the blue in the afternoon and, as my stomach turned over, seeing a flight of silver Spitfires dive into it. I froze with fear, hope, anger, pity. Many times afterwards, Londoners in the black-out heard the sky grunt, grunt, grunt over them, then howl and rock, or saw it go green instead of black, the whole 700 square miles of it twitching like sick electricity and hammered all over by millions of sharp gold sparks as the barrage beat against it like steel against a steel door. The curling magnesium ribbons that came slowly down were a relief to see, in that unremitting noise.The glasses and plates, the curtains, the favourite vases, ferns, clocks, and photographs, the pens on the desks, the ink in the pots danced in their places throughout the night in evil monotony hard to endure. The sky was extravagant; the earth would occasionally come to life in scattered carrotty fires, and on the bad nights, when the docks, the East End, and the City were burned out, the tide being too low to give the firemen water, London turned crimson. Even then, people made the "historic" remark, the remark of experience. Nothing like this, they said, had been seen since 1666. One cloudless August afternoon near the end of the war, green snow fell in minute insulting particles all over Holborn. We saw them when we got up from under our desks, where we had ducked when a bomb had fallen a mile or so away in  Hyde Park and had blown the leaves off the trees into these mysterious smithereens. It had seemed, for a moment, like a new venture of the London climate, which we knew to be capable of anything. 
        Seven  hundred thousand dwellings were damaged in the County of London, that is to say more than eighty per cent of the total. And  of these, nearly a third were totally destroyed. Little was left of the docks or the City. And about 30,000  people were killed, more than 50,000 injured. On December 29, 1940, all Paternoster Row went, and a favourite phrase, imported from American films, was that "London can take it," whatever that may mean. London did nothing so exhibitionist, showed none of the characteristics of the prize fighters' ring, as seen by publicity agents. London was quite simply morose, fatalistic, frightened, depressed, and fell back on that general practicality of mind that counts as calm. The climate had predisposed us to expect the worst and to disbelieve in the facts. Fatalism is the English religion. "London can take it" is just the beer talking. At the George, in Great Portland Street, I do recall two drunks discussing the kind of funeral they wanted, with a lot of circumstantial detail about the correct amount of flowers, during a bad half hour. And there is no one who could not supply a list of old aunts, grandmothers, and so on who stuck the thing out, immovably, sustained by a vigorous social disapproval of the whole shemozzle. Private life rules the world. 
      It was the silence of London in the early evening that struck one. One had never known it to be dead quiet before. The machine had stopped. One walked down mile after mile of empty streets to the sound of one's own heels only,  and voices carried far, as if across water. I remember two painted old crones sitting out alone on a bench in Lincoln's Inn Fields, when I was fire-watching. They were, no doubt, caretakers, and I could hear their voices far across the square. They were talking about actresses and distant connections of the Royal Family, of course. One night I saw a soldier come fighting out of a pub and get his teeth knocked out.  One could hear them fall as distinctly as pebbles, a hundred yards away.

Every Sunday I walk past the V&A on my way to church. During the war the museum was used as a canteen for the RAF and a refuge for children evacuated from Gibraltar. It was hit repeatedly; the worst bomb exploded just outside the Exhibition Road entrance and the fa├žade is to this day mottled with the effect of the shrapnel blast. The doors were blown in and nearly every iron grill, gate, and window destroyed. The museum remained open to the public. Today I walk past the inscription cut into the stone around the wreckage. The damage to these walls is the result of enemy bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War 1939-1945 and is left as a memorial to the enduring values of this great museum in a time of conflict. It makes me proud to be human.

remembrance day.

Last week, Veteran's Day, another eleven I love. And I like how it is done here, how weeks of reminding lead up to the big remembrance. At street corners and subway stops, next to the till, outside the bookshop, the grocers, the opera. Paper poppies in boxes, ten pence or ten pounds, paper poppies in boxes. Mine from the window overlooking the gardens at Kensington. I carry it home in cupped hands because I don't want to bend the petals. I wrap the stem in tape colored like the sky so that it stays close against the safety pin, so it lays flat above my heart. I pin it to my coat collar. I pin it to my shirt. I pin it to my sweater. Every day all week long I wear the poppy. Everyone is wearing poppies. Business men who get off at Bond Street wearing black,  punky teenagers taking up too many seats at the back of the train, a wrinkled woman folding into a taxi cab, tiny children in mittens. Between trains we walk so quickly, going so many places. All of us and our poppies. Row on row

We are the dead. In my head I hear words I learned a dozen years ago. I remember them all. I walk along the river after dark. I walk for miles.


a letter from London, long overdue.

I am in a plane and I am a prayer. That was my first sentence. Every sinew of self stretched to silent supplication. The beginning of the essay about the time I moved to London, that one time I packed a suitcase, a carry-on, and two ziplocs of trail mix and moved not just across the country but out of it. I was going to be scared and second-guessing, I was going to make evident my insanity but perhaps eventually arrive at some small understanding, conclude with a quiet sentence in favor of strength. It might have been really something.  

Instead, I am in a plane and I am a prayer of irrepressible hallelujah. This is my first sentence. To be fair, round one of the flight was mostly foreboding—from Salt Lake City to Chicago I watched clouds collect like an inverted tundra beneath our wings, mottled, thick, and frozen. At one point I felt compelled to recite The Wasteland, Unreal City,/under the brown fog of a winter dawn. But even I had to admit that was too dramatic. And the woman next to me seemed concerned. Talking to oneself. Generally worrisome. 

But I am in a plane and I am every cell singing impetuous praise, and I can't tell you exactly why or where it is coming from except to explain that sometimes answers arrive only after you have accepted the question, and as my triple seven lifts up over the Windy City it seems to me that this is Heaven's version of a hearty high-five. The sun setting behind us has painted clouds the color of the Renaissance, and the Sistine sky rolls from gilded rose into deep purpled blue. One particularly painterly thunderhead flat-bottoms like a mushroom cloud and it is not sinister but somehow holy and I find myself wanting Wordsworth to write this, remembering that he already has. Trailing clouds of glory. Intimations of immortality. I watch the sun set until I can see only stars. 

There are still things to worry about. I do not know where I am living, I haven't fully finished enrollment at the university, I don't know when I will next talk to John or what exactly to declare as my intended purpose for entry on the customs card the stewardess hands to me with the tonic water I requested. I can't sleep on planes. I can't sleep unless I am lying down and it is dark and it is completely quiet, and on planes I am 0 for 3. I have a lot of time to think about what I've done. There is another hour of asphyxiating anxiety in the early morning, when I choose to focus on the shadows between the stars rather than count out the constellations. But I force myself to close my eyes and fall into fitful half-dreams and when I wake up it is proper morning and below me the sun has tipped over the edge of the world and the river lights up like liquid gold, spinning into the heart of a city that has my whole life spoken to me like home. Have you ever seen A Room with a View? Joy! Beauty! Love! From above, every building, each street, every turn of the Thames declaring the eternal yes.


All of this was six weeks ago. I found a flat. I'm more than a month into my masters program and in the thick of theses and thinking. I talk to John more than most people would assume necessary but is somehow not ever enough for me. And while I still can't tell you that I know exactly my ultimate purpose in being here (on the card I settled with "study;" this might prove the most pertinent way to define my daily walk, though I meant it more innocently then), I can say that this morning I woke up happy, that there are few things more whole and holy than knowing you are in the right place at the right time.