London: Bubonic Plague, Literature, Loos. Then Off to Spain!

Back in London for my last 24 hrs. in England, I was regrettably unable to catch up with Misses B&K, who were detained by work, and so remained in misanthropic distancing mode (already bitchy about temporary quarters and suitcase-living and English food). Stayed at the new-ish Wesley, the cheapest hotel I could find walking distance from King’s Cross with air conditioning (it’s not as cool there as you think, Londoniers!!!) and free in-room wifi. It labels itself an “ethical” hotel which I took to mean environmental sustainability and, yes, that’s part of it, but it’s also somehow associated with the Methodist Church, “rebranding to The Wesley in May 2013 to reflect our pride in our Christian & Methodist heritage.” So basically, I stayed in a convent, and it didn’t explode! (I did remain on my best behavior.) The room was a bit monastic, come to think of it, and the view SO nondescript that they just covered it with frosted glass. But I did get a DOUBLE bed and blessed rainfall shower. By “cheap,” however, I mean $358USD/night (although it did include breakfast), more than the NYC High Line Standard! So goodbye London and your darned £££ living.

I shall recommend no restaurants (ugh!), but champagne at the St. Pancras Station definitely a treat:

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Two unexpected tourist highlights, for history and literature buffs:

#1 was a visit to the Museum of London, which I picked over the Tower of London for its free admission, as opposed to £22 (I am not ALWAYS a spendthrift, especially if I don’t care about those crown jewels!). Voluntary donation not collected by human person as at MetMuseum, so I shamelessly just dumped my small change, which given my lack of visual recognition of UK coin, may once again have been dozens of ££. It is an interactive history of Londinium from pre-Roman times (the building actually wraps around the ruins of London’s Roman wall) to the present but, passionate about wrongdoing and uncanniness and such things, I was especially mesmerized with the sections on the 1348 plague and the 1666 London fire. Did you know during the plague people wore perfume because it was thought to ward off infection? ESPECIALLY if it contained ambergris, defined by the museum caption as “whale’s vomit.”

But most fun of all are the near-life size walk-through “neighborhoods,” from the Roman houses to the most “realistic” of all, the Victorian walk:

Victorian walk

Miss L would have LOVED the latter, seeing as she has a wonderful book on nineteenth-century bourgeois urban spaces. I have been fascinated with such spatial simulacra ever since in 1967 I informed my family I did not want to play with a dollhouse, but in a dollhouse, and my terrific much beloved granddad complied (giving all the credit to Santa Claus–my grandma being responsible for the Victorian dress).

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Which explains how at the Museum of London I was happy to play for way too long with the make-believe electronic fountain that encourages you to “wet” your hand and then notifies that “you have just contacted the plague. You will develop headaches, fever, and buboes. You will die in three days.”

#2 was to be a visit to Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner to pay my respects to some of my favorite dead poets (beginning with Alfred, Lord Tennyson:  Dear as remembered kisses after death/And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d/On lips that are for others; deep as love/Deep as first love, and wild with all regret/O Death in Life, the days that are no more!). But, it being a church and everything, it wasn’t open on Sunday (!).

Thus impeded from visiting Charles Dickens in his grave, I headed to his house in Bloomsbury, with very Low Expectations, as he only lived there for a couple of years (1837-39) and it seemed sure to be a tourist trap. In actual fact, it was a very engaging little stop and the amusing audio tour really brings his environment to life. It was the first house he purchased, when his success had barely begun, and shows (in very Bourdieu-esque fashion) the author’s position-taking, based on his own perception of what a writer’s social standing should or would be.

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Most of the furnishings were actually his, and the way he thought about his private space made me think I was his kindred soul: his attention to entertaining and his wine cellar (SO important to him!), the intimacy and comfort of his study with that wonderful desk, where I too would have written Oliver Twist and not some time-wasting travel blog. We both loved mirrors, and not just out of vanity. And our color psychology! Even though his favorite color was SCARLET (his study, pre-Holmes!/my kitchen), he chose a lovely periwinkle blue for his dining room (I for my bedroom). Spiritual twins. Then of course I heard about how he took up with actress Ellen Ternan and abandoned his lovely wife Kate soon after she bore their tenth child, publishing a note in the newspaper for all to know, and keeping her sister Georgina as housekeeper and nanny. (At least he had the decency to keep all those children! And Kate had the brilliance to gift Georgina a ring in the shape of a snake.)  Asshole. So, not my kindred soul. I hope (am I sure?).

After a stroll to the Thames, so no one would say I hadn’t even laid eyes upon it during my third visit to London,

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I was really getting close to my fill of THAT much culture and civilization, what with all the accidental stumbling upon more literary sites

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and the award-winning public loos.

loos

In any case I did not even have enough time to get the cryogenic lypolisis, from which I’m sure I could have greatly benefited, whatever it might be.

cryogenic lypolisis

So the time came to leave Brittania.

Best of Times

And I was already LONGING for Spain, because… Spain.

I crossed the seas on mighty Vueling Airlines (infuriatingly acquired by Iberia Airlines, which I promised to boycott forever), and made it to Bilbao (sort-of-Spain, in any case: Kaixo, Bilbo!). JUST IN TIME to join the beautiful Misses M&P for the second half of the Argentina-Germany World Cup final (my poor little Messi!). And now I am in what will be my lovely digs on Solokoetxe Street through August 7th.

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And the HARD WORK has started.

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I can tell it will be a most  prolific three weeks.

(And BTW, I brought them some of the Cornish sea salt, and we tried it, and it tastes… salty!)

Love to y’all talk to you soon!

About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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