Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In Which I Get Sappy About a Book and London, As is My Way

I got a package from Amazon today! While I buy lots and lots of books, I rarely buy them online, so getting a book or play in the mail is always very exciting to me. Actually, getting mail in general is exciting, but especially when it's a book.

The book in question was The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (she just keeps showing up in this blog, doesn't she?) I made myself finish the few things I had to do today- turning in one essay, picking up another- before settling down with it. I read about a hundred pages of it, then stopped to go grocery shopping. After I came back and put my food away, I sat down and read the last hundred and eighty pages. It's a really good book, though not exactly what I was expecting (in both wonderful and I-disapprove-of-this-kissing-after-you've-known-him-for-two-days ways.) And as usual, Maureen Johnson managed to write a book that had me laughing out loud most of the time but crying at the end.

The interesting thing about this book and its predecessor, 13 Little Blue Envelopes (and why I'm writing about them on this blog) is that the meaning of them is very different to me now that I've been living in England. In 13LBE, the main character, Ginny, gets thirteen letters (in blue envelopes) from her aunt, who has recently died. They lead her first to London, and then around the globe as she follows their instructions and has incredible experiences. It's the first book of Johnson's that I ever read, and I loved it because of all of the traveling and that Ginny was very much like me. Also, I was dying to go to England; I hadn't yet been, though I would go about eight months after reading 13LBE.

My first trip to London didn't change the book much for me, because a week in London is not living there. But in anticipation of the sequel coming out, I reread 13LBE, and it was almost a completely different book to me, reading it in March after living in England for almost three months. When Ginny mentioned that all of the tube adverts seemed to be an inside joke, I knew what she meant. I recognized the names of things: Barclay's Bank (they're all over London), the Northern Line (I take it all the time), Angel tube station (it's right by where my hotel was, as well as a few theatres I've gone to.) The fact that bathrooms are carpeted. Calling your university a "uni." How much of a staple Ribena (which is a juice) is. How pubs are everywhere and how casually everyone drinks at any time of day.
I identified more with things I could only imagine, not having lived in London before: hearing your own broad American accent as compared to an English one. All the cultural diversity that I didn't encounter in my hometown or at my regular college. And thankfully, there were also things I haven't encountered- weird showers, scary hostels, and foxes- however friendly- prowling the garbage at night (though I think I did see one from a distance this week, late one night on campus.)

Ginny also travels to Italy, and now that I've been there, I know what it's like to know you look like a tourist. Something I never mentioned about my visit there was just how much Adrienne and I were openly stared at, no matter what we were doing. It was rather unnerving. She goes to Paris, too, where I learned, as Ginny does, that people really do carry baguettes, and the streets really are "asparagus thin."

It was just amazing, reading the books, how much I recognized by name: Pont Neuf in Paris. Brick Lane in London, famous for its Indian food. St. Pancras, where the Eurostar arrives and departs in London. Harrods, with its ridiculous merchandise (Helicoptors. Chanel. Puppies. Helicoptors and Chanel for the puppies... and I'm only kind of kidding.) Charing Cross station. Foyles, a bookstore chain. Ginny and her friends even go to Lille, though they don't stay there for long. Waterloo station, where I disembark often to go to to National Theatre. Victoria Station. Costa Coffee.

And still in the books are things I haven't yet experienced, like Christmas crackers (not food- sort of packages with toys and a paper crown inside.) I've only seen pictures of Paris at Christmas. I've never been to Corfu or Amsterdam or Belgium or Rome. Goals for later in life, I suppose, because I only have a little over a month left here. A month. And maybe that's why cried at the end of the book: Ginny feels the same way about England and London as I do, and so the end pretty much echos my thoughts:

Home. It was a nice thought. She missed her parents, her friends... but the word didn't have quite the same meaning anymore. England was home, too. So much of her was here.
The Question floated back into her mind. It had been lingering in the background, waiting for the right moment to make its presence felt..."Describe a life experience that changed you."
Maybe now she had her answer, and it was one word: England. Sure, that didn't convey a lot of information... but she wasn't going to tell them the truth, that she wanted someone to block her path. She wanted this train to break down, for her flight to be canceled, for immigration to tell her that she wasn't allowed to go. She wanted London itself to rise up and refuse to let her pass out of its boundaries.


This is exactly how I feel, and I don't think that's going to change. I love London, and while I may be leaving soon, I will definitely be back.

1 comments:

Brenda said...

London thanks you for that warning LOL

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