A wonderful life-saving therapist told me years ago that I am the atypical real fusion of two relationship types, the “distancer” and the “pursuer”–someone who needs to keep others exactly at arms-length, no farther and no closer. Not shy about chasing after whomever I want (or throwing myself at/on the Big Bear beefcake on the next plane seat), I become overwhelmed the moment they start stalking me by, say, texting to see if there’s anything they can do to help while I’m afflicted with a nasty cold. My allergy to assiduousness has more or less turned into a pattern my pal Miss Ursula describes thus:
With which I’ve made my peace (well, 80% of the time, as Miss Ursula’s headaches will attest to), because in the end I’d much rather the people in my life be deeply interesting than… nice.
But that is a digressive preamble: this is not a love-life post. I mention such things only because I’ve figured out, without therapist’s benefit this time, that they spill over into the rest of my life. I am constantly torn between Bell Systems’ “Reach Out and Touch Someone” and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (which I would have adopted as a life motto if my dear friend Miss Cruella hadn’t taken it first). And this is never more maddeningly apparent than when traveling solo.
Take, for example, my overpowering need to watch the World Cup in a public place, because I figure fútbol is essentially communal, and what better time to commune with The People than while abroad on my own. Thus I walk into a pub: I’ve tried two in Cambridge this week–the Baron of Beef and the Mitre, the latter
“FAMOUS FOR BEING TWO PUBS SEPARATED BY A YARD NAMED AFTER A MEDIEVAL PRIEST” (whatever). Resigned to having some vaguely nauseating if happily inexpensive food (sorry Brits I know y’all love your mushy peas),
I arrive exactly one hour before the Netherlands-Argentina game, so as to be conveniently seated with a good view of the TV when the action starts. And then some dude decides that right when the referee flips the coin is the perfect time to ask about my identity, origin, occupation, and (immediate) future plans. This being Perfidious Albion (or at least Europa: the English had no beef to grind in this, and I gather from their tone of voice they are always exquisitely friendly to me), he is the only briefly sympathetic soul in a roomful of orange-shirted face-painted Dutch hooligans who eventually succeed in ostracizing me into a lonely corner for being the only voice yelling “Messi! Messi!” with admittedly decreasing fervor–as well the only wine drinker. (I have nothing against painting flags on one’s face,
but they should never correspond to one’s own country; nationalism is EVIL.) Had I had the nerve to remain through the end of penalty kicks in the neck-craning corner where I ended up (something that would have never happened to Miss L, who has the gift of gab), I would have shown them, HA! And now, against my prediction but not my desire, there will be a Germany-Argentina final which I will most likely TRAGICALLY MISS because of my flight to Bilbao!!! (Just to clarify, my team was initially Spain, but oy.)
Thus shunned by The People, the next day I retreated, after a morning meeting with Cambridge colleagues at the University Library,
to the idyllic seclusion of my little flat,
for a bit of writing and a dinner of frozen pizza stolen from my “landlady” and Marks & Spencer generic cava, followed by a huge stomach ache. Also a run-in with Expedia over having sold me a “Secret Save” hotel reservation not remotely in the London neighborhood I had initially searched (and chewing out the customer representative, at 20¢/min, until I got a REFUND on my non-refundable booking). Now I will have to devote my remaining days to embargoing Expedia just as in 2012 I had to commit to devastating Iberia Airlines.
All of which made me pine again for the company of others. Feeling faintly sad and lonely (Miss L, Miss L, why have you forsaken me?), I thought of finding myself a local guide: isn’t THAT what dating sites are for!!!??? Well, not exactly, but I did briefly peruse one before deciding it was an ill-advised idea, without the foggiest notion that swiping left (or was it right?) automatically “liked” a profile. Hence I received a message from a friendly Cambridgshire Camel telling me that “I’m flattered, very flattered,” but “I’ve tried trans-Atlantic relationships before and it was just too tough to sustain.” NEVERTHELESS, “if you’re willing to put in the effort, I’m willing to stay in touch on here/by email/on Skype and see where things go.” Now I know British gents are much less commitment-phobic than Americans (or New Zealanders), but still, I had nothing with the words “put in the effort” or the rest of my life in mind.
Accordingly, I embraced the prospect of a bit of contemplative isolation, and spent my last couple of days in Cambridge a) writing, and b) touring King’s College Chapel and the Round Church. The Chapel, begun under Henry VI in 1441, is a gorgeous structure uncannily reminiscent of a Mediterranean Catholic gothic church, but strikingly clean of idols and other clutter.
Although as a post-Mediterranean gal, I love the iconic excess of Spanish and Italian sacred art, I was quite impressed by the strong connection between religion and learning in a medieval/early Renaissance Reformist church–perhaps nowhere clearer than at University of Cambridge. My peoples came up with the Inquisition, they just liked to burn folk and shit like that until… just the other day? I was also impressed with how educational the exhibit was. Who knew the secret to the lasting power of stained glass was dried urine:
The Round Church, built around 1130 and modeled after the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem (although it didn’t much look like the original to me?), was also a beautiful and serene retreat for a temporary misanthrope:
The exhibit posts too were extremely informative, although once again I managed to focus most especially on a tangential piece of data: the origin of the term “Bloody Mary,” which I, acknowledged ignoramus, was not aware of. Again, WHO KNEW!
And that’s that for Cambridge the Old. Tomorrow London, and Sunday, Hispania. Before leaving, special mention must be made of D’Arry’s Restaurant, recommended to me by Miss MC, whom I sadly missed on this trip. I almost paid no attention to her, as she loves mushy peas, but am enormously glad I did! Very good food (if not Jamie Oliver-grade), but most especially memorable for the wine pairings they do with South Australian d’Arenberg wines. I had The Olive Grove Chardonnay and The Hermit Crab Viognier-Marsanne. Delicious.