Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate

London, Day One

                                                                                                                                                         July 2012                       

Dear Friends and Family~


We lifted off yesterday at 7:10 p.m., right on time, and spent the next six hours enjoying a curry dinner, parts of a movie or two on board, and finally a breakfast muffin. We touched down at 6 a.m. (1 a.m. Eastern time) and deborded into the swirl of energy that is London. Dear old London is packed airtight with people. Her streets are crammed with buses and cars and her sidewalks are so thick with arms and legs it should be hard to walk them. But, things move. People do not stroll; they stride. I've never seen so many people on city streets. Is it the Olympics???

     We checked in around 8:30 a.m., grateful for the perfect serenity of our upscale hotel--all cream and beige and soft elegance. We both crashed, having not slept through the night. Around 11 a.m. Ross woke up and suggested we get moving. This I was happy to do. Right off, out on the street, an Indian man approached Ross briskly and said, "Sir, did you know you have a lucky face? You will have three happinesses this next week." Ross looked confused, so he said, "Do you understand about lucky face?" Ross smiled, shook his head and we moved on. (More on "lucky face" tomorrow.)
     Hopping on a bus at the Marble Arch, we spent a small eternity crawling through London streets trying to reach the Tate Modern Museum. Suddenly,  after an hour of sitting, we looked up and took in our breath. There it was-- St. Paul's Cathedral!! The magnificence of this looming authority in the heart of London can not be overstated. Its grandeur eclipses everything else, as onion layers of history seem to hover in the air all around. We hopped off the bus and spent a few minutes at Queen Anne's feet, studying stone personifications of her nation subjects (including America) assembled around the base.

     From there we picked our way through the crowds to Bow Street, slipped through a wrought iron fence dating to William and Mary's reign and into a narrow passage that led us to a pub where we took our kids four years ago. Williamson's is dark wood and rich red walls and gentlemen in pinstripes suits, with one foot on the brass footrail and a hand on a pint of ale. It has the oldest liquor license in London and serves up plates of fish, chips and pea mash (sounds horrible but isn't) followed by sticky date pudding (love those messy British desserts!). I would ride another hour on a bus to enjoy that pudding.

     Next, on to the Tate Modern, across the Millennium footbridge. Mistake--turned out the exhibit Ross wanted to see was at the other Tate. Oh, well. New plan. I suggested we go visit the building on Queen Victoria Street that used to house the British and Foreign Bible Society. Ross was game, so we found it and walked through the open doors of the headquarters for the Scientology church (they now own the building).

     This proved to be providential. I told the receptionist that I used to work there and she immediately expressed her distress over not knowing where to send a stack of mail that had come over the years addressed to the Society. She had opened some of the letters and found requests from overseas pastors pleading for Bibles and such. I offered to take the stack and get it sent to the Bible Society for her. She looked relieved, and retrieved it, commenting that "communication is so important." (Wasn't sure what that meant to a Scientologist!)

    Anyway, it felt like a divine appointment, particularly after I scanned some of the open mail in the stack and read the earnest pleas from pastors in places like Nigeria and Malawi. There was one unintentionally  humorous letter from a British woman, who gave her full name and birth date, then listed about 30 theological questions that were of interest to her. After each question, she wrote, "Please write an essay giving an answer to this question." One of them said, "Please write a long essay answering my question." I'll bet the Bible Society was glad to miss that one!

     We showed up again at St. Paul's in time for evening prayer, a familiar liturgy rendered more graceful in British accents. This time we opted for the subway back to the hotel, which took about ten minutes. After changing shoes, over we went to Selfridge's department store, where I had my favorite meal--afternoon tea--at 9 p.m. Ross ordered a sandwich and enjoyed a couple of my four scones afterward, garnished with jam and clotted cream.

     Returning to the hotel in a light mist, we took a turn around Portman Square just outside our hotel. A sweet ending to our day: Ross and I were holding hands as we strolled the Square when a young Swedish woman, gorgeous enough to be a model, came up and grabbed my arm. "You are beautiful," she exclaimed. I laughed and she pointed to my skirt and said, "I love your skirt." This was surprising. I bought the skirt at a second-hand store a week or so ago and would have to say I thought it might be just one or two degrees shy of frumpy. But, no matter. It seemed like grace, sweetness out on the streets of London. Ross has a lucky face and I have a beautiful skirt.

     As Ross and I move through London, we are conscious that we represent the US and want to be good ambassadors. Our Brazilian waitress at Selfridges said she is dying to be in the States but can't get a green card. We asked what was the appeal and she exclaimed, "Oh, everything is better there! People are so nice and friendly, everything is so easy! I love the States!"

Well, it is time to end. Ross has fallen asleep with a book in his hand and I will slump over the keyboard if I don't close. Perhaps I'll get more time to journal again. We feel like complete imposters in this lovely hotel, which we booked with credit card points. The flight over was paid for with credit card points. Grace, grace and more grace.

Blessings on you all!