appealing to angels: a london travelogue

went to london last week where i lived for ten years until after our daughter was born & where i hadn’t been in four years. walked a lot. noticed how much fuller the city seemed though i have no idea how that’s possible. how many more people can you squeeze into this town? no more tower records on picadilly circus, but instead another soulless mega clothing store. how many clothes can you sell to people who’re already clothed? how much food to the farting fed? every second person now carries a smartphone in their hand and looks at it, types on it, swipes it while they walk; that movement, the touch screen swipe, used to be reserved for leafing through a book or slapping your mate.

i wonder if the deployment of smartphones to the streets of london in connection with the driving on the other side of the road leads to more casualties. with pedestrians and drivers continuously staring at their displays, a lot more guardian angels are needed to save lives. what if technology drives the heavens nuts: after eons of underemployment because humans looked after themselves, angels now have to substitute where technology either fails or leads us astray. all of this is of course only relevant if there are any angels at all.

london is a strong case for the existence of higher powers: as is new york city, tokyo, rome, paris, rio de janeiromexico city…these moloch cities would surely collapse unless somebody above would look after us, after the sewage, the sinning and the souls. speaking of souls: i usually visit a church when i travel just to check in with the old verb, but not this week. london sucked all time out of me, always did. i used to ride a motorbike through town feeling like a leathery knight, forever rushing, forever outdoing my own performance. now i walk, slowly, and i enjoy it when others pass me. sometimes they throw insults at me over their shoulders: i can never understand what they’re saying, but i know i’m in the way of their way.

throughout the week, in cafes, in the hotel room, i worked with a few other panelists on answers for atticus books’ six degrees left series. subject: the “occupy wall street” movement (this is the same series that already brought us “stripping down the mfa“); to be published soon.

a propos performance: read on wednesday at the betsey trotwood in farringdon (event hosted by 4’33”); great venue, british audience, a few friends among them. it felt different but good to read to an audience of native speakers for a change. good quality work throughout while the rain drizzled outside. my story worked well, too: some laughs, nobody fainted.

in the evening i skype-d from the hotel. that was a first. i travel little these days & that makes me happy. traveling is hard on one’s heart, with or without angels.

london is full of queues and inside these queues, civilization rules. everybody here is naturally more polite than berliners will ever be, even with specialized training. a vision of hell: london traffic with german behavioral customs. oyster up, traveller.

the emotional and the professional: i was tense before my first meeting with a literary agent. it left me with a sense of the commercial side of writing that i normally manage to push out of the way. the publishing world’s so full of rites: it’ll take another life time to learn them. as a newcomer to this game, i can only hope to wing it the same way i’ve winged it before. i remember well: all serious business is improvisation at first.

those guardian angels must also be hanging around a writer’s head, don’t you think? maybe i can catch one of them in a dream and ask him what to do next. apart from the main thing: write. wrote a mini review of a book given to me by the agent: cornelius medvei’s “caroline: a mystery.” it’s different & it’s good.

i ate at our once-favorite japanese restaurant, sakura—just as good as it always was but now without chain-smoking customers. i felt the loss even though i don’t smoke. as if to make up for it, i observed the head waiter exchange friendly words (in japanese) with a leaving customer: they bowed to each other incessantly, perhaps ten times, looking like a pair of scissors. i peeked at them from behind my mountainous katsudon.

first thing at home in berlin i had a story accepted by PANK magazine, which brightened my weekend, and the travel memories fizzled out all by themselves, as memories do when there’s a life to live.

as it’s london, i want to end on a food note: discovered an exquisite fish ‘n chips locale in covent garden just around the corner from my hotel: rock & sole plaice. so cheap & good that it hurt to leave. wolfed my dish down next to a smudgy poster of british prime ministers of the last 290 years, which lent a certain incandescence to my meal…i’ll be back, london, because i hate you and because i love you.


Update: in January 2012, this post appeared in the > Language > Place blog carnival #13 hosted by the incomparable Christopher Allen.

14 thoughts on “appealing to angels: a london travelogue

  1. Still recovering from the sight of all those smart phones, too. It’s those clawed thumbs, texting away, that get me. Funny old place, London. I think more and more of Dickens when I return. It’s always an emotional experience, going back, but the place London has in my heart is so different from the one reserved for Berlin.

    • kate, it was good to be in london & it was great to hear you read a story at the 4’33” event. dickens—yes. i was glad to be back in berlin even though i miss london, too, and it’s goo. 

  2. Thank you for sharing a little from your trip to London! Good no one fainted from your reading, but to bad no one fainted from joy!  🙂

    I’ll be sure to check out that restaurant the next time I’m in London.

    Congratulations on the story in PANK, looking forward to reading it. And good to hear the meeting with the agent went well! Best of luck with the development and decisions!

    • thanks berit. that restaurant is a winner allright. PANK is a first for me after a number of rejections. so i’ll be publishing flash into 2012 from the looks of it. (the acceptance wasn’t for the print issue btw, but for the online issue—frank hinton is in the print issue though & it’s likely to be great).

  3. Enjoyed London vicariously through this post. Thanks for that. Hope your meeting with the agent leads to great things!

    Congratulations on your upcoming piece in Pank. Looking forward to reading that.

      • Hi! Um, I think that was another Chris. Hi, Chris! And thank you, Marcus, for mentioning my blog. I wish–God I wish–I could have been in London to hear you read. And Kate. And Kate. Oh man.

        • consider the comments swapped (that’s what london does to you! transgression!): indeed i meant YOUR travel blog. the other chris’ (galvin nguyen) blog is very good, too, but it’s not a travelogue. yes, kate. that kate, right? not the other kate? 😉 kate?

  4. Tower records has GONE…!!!! I obviously need to get back to London myself – the last time I was round that area it was still there.

  5. I used to work in Regent Street and went back for the first time for ages last year (even though I only live a short journey away) and everything has changed. The beautiful store I worked in is now also a bland fashion house as is the once regal Garrards. And Carnaby street has no soul anymore – just accessory shops full of handbags and white elephants. Your image of London is pretty accurate – and whilst smart phones are wonderful tools when it comes to communication I feel they are as much destructive as they are constructive. Fortunately, they haven’t yet managed to win the battle for WiFi on the underground where, apart from the video screens, little has changed. You can, at least, still read in traditional British gloomy silence:))

    • Thanks Jane—you’re right about the tube…I felt transported back to pre-Internet days apart from the fact that every second traveler had an iPad on their knees. This post would undoubtedly have been more happening if I hadn’t pursued my own pleasures but gone and hung out at St Pauls at the OLSX tent settlement more…

  6. Yep, I was in London in November – went up for the day. It has changed, seems even less friendly than when I was a student there, but that was a long time ago. Not overimpressed by the irritating lack of help with public transport – who runs this place, Boris Johnson???

    • Ha!…had to look up “Boris Johnson”. Found out he was the Shadow Mayor of London or something and an Etonian with more public appeal than any other Etonian since James Bond. Wikipedia wasn’t so sure about that itself…and the man had hair hanging over his face in all pictures that I found. I might just be jealous of his mane. Thanks for commenting, Martin, have a good transit. 

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