Twenty Three Stops on the Piccadilly Line

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I’ve developed just the best tradition with my friends in London of how to say farewell when it comes time to leave my favorite city. We meet for breakfast at Dishoom in their Kings Cross location and gorge on bacon naan and kejriwal, a spicy cheese toast that defies description. It’s a sad parting for me, but who knows? Those guys are likely celebrating my departure.

I usually take the Heathrow Express from Paddington to catch my plane, but since I was at Kings Cross, I hopped on the Piccadilly line, which has a cheaper (albeit slower) Tube service straight to the airport. As we calculated how long my trip to the wilds of Airport City (disclaimer: not a real city), Annabel said, “Twenty-three stops. You should write a blog post about 23 things you love about London.”

I (almost) always try to do what Annie tells me to (she’s far smarter about my life than I am), so here we are. Between Kings Cross and Heathrow Terminal Three, 23 stops and 23 things I love about London. Annie wanted to be Number One on the list, but I’m hoping the fact that I’m following her orders so explicitly will compensate. At each stop, starting with Russell Square, you’ll find a thing I love.

Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath

RUSSELL SQUARE: I love that London is a city of parks and neighborhoods. One of my favorite places to walk in the city is Hampstead Heath, where within minutes you can be in such deeply shrouded forest that you’d never know you were within the environs of one of the world’s largest cities. St. James Park is cradled in the lap of Buckingham Palace and Westminster and not to be missed, but I loved wandering Clissold Park with my friends Jenna, Emma and Ralph, and I’m anxious for my friend Janet (and Mills, of course!) to show me around the Hackney Marshes.

HOLBORN: I’m just going to say it. I love the Tube. I love the tiles. I love the escalators. I love the advertisements. I love the maps and its relative efficiency (Ask a New Yorker how things are going when you’re stuck a few extra minutes due to that signal failure on the Northern Line.). I love that there’s poetry on some of the cars. I love the typeface and contactless payment at the turnstyles. I love how egalitarian it is and the fact that it serves everyone from parents with babies to school kids to working stiffs to dogs. I love seeing people get on with groceries and bouquets of flowers and books and headphones and PRIDE flags and even their dinner. Even when it’s crowded and hot and sticky, I love it all. London’s Underground is the world’s first underground passenger railway and it carries up to 5 million passengers a day, and I love it when I’m one of them.

COVENT GARDEN: I love that the concept of a High Street lingers in many neighborhoods. The term High Street has evolved from Middle English (where “high” means “important’) to denoting the main retail area of a neighborhood. This is where you go for all the most important shops and businesses. From what I gather, after its heyday in the 19th century, High Street culture has taken a bit of a hit of late (haven’t we all?). Still, coming from a land of endless mallscapes and suburbia, I love the spill of cafes and shops along the street. I love that you can pop into the butcher and Waitrose and then for coffee afterwards, maybe grabbing that book that caught your eye on the way home.

LEICESTER SQUARE: I love the walking culture that living in London affords. You can’t get to the Tube or to the High Street without walking there, now can you? I love that any commute I make includes a ten or so minute walk to the Tube station. I walk everywhere when I’m there, and it’s just not a lifestyle I can replicate when I’m in the US.

Kenwood Ladies Pond

Kenwood Ladies Pond

PICCADILLY CIRCUS: Oh man, how I love the Ponds. I can walk to the Chesapeake Bay and be swimming there in less than five minutes, but there’s something so, so special about slipping beneath the still, glass-green water of the Ponds. Maybe it’s the trees looming overhead, or the ducks floating past. It’s for sure the color palette. Bottle green. Burnt orange. Sepia brown. All call me to nature. In the Ladies Pond it’s for sure the community of women, but I spent my first time in the Mixed Pond this summer, and that same sense of joy can be felt there. As I hung out on a buoy, legs dangling, I could hear first-timers call to each other, “this is amazing! we should do this every day!” Yes, you should.

GREEN PARK: Okay, it sounds like a little thing, but I love Banham locks. Found in all the homes and flats I stayed in (so they must be everywhere!), these locks are substantial and easy to use and, to put it simply, satisfying. My best guess is that they’re the UK version of the US’s ever-present Yale Locks, but I like their door handles, I like how sturdy the locks are and how intricate the keys. Long live the Banham Lock.

HYDE PARK CORNER: Why is it that even the street names are charming? Granted, Hyde Park Corner is a roundabout and a Tube stop, but still. England’s Lane? Blackfriars Street? Pickwick Place. St. Bees Close. Say it out loud. See if you don’t like it.

Daunt Books, Marylebone

Daunt Books, Marylebone

KNIGHTSBRIDGE: Ahhh, the bookstores. I’m not sure I’ve left yet without buying a book, which, much as my suitcase may protest, seems entirely appropriate. This is a picture of Daunt Books, in Marylebone High Street (see what I did there?), an Edwardian bookshop that specializes in travel books. Also beloved is Hatchard’s, which has been selling books since 1797 and is featured in my beloved Mrs. Dalloway. On one of my next trips, I want to get to Heywood Hill, where Nancy Mitford worked. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle (we’re BFFs), but nothing, not one thing, beats losing yourself in a bookshop, and in those London comes up trumps.

SOUTH KENSINGTON: Dogs. Dogs in pubs. Dogs in estate agents. Dogs on the Tube. Dogs in the park. Dogs under tables at outdoor cafes. Dogs sitting next to you on banquettes. Dogs in taxis. Dogs on trains. Dogs so welcome that it’s surprising and off putting to see a “Dogs Not Welcome” sign, as if perhaps they could have phrased it more politely.

GLOUCESTER ROAD: It’s not for nothing that London is one of the world’s biggest cities, and that size is reflected in its diversity. I love walking the streets hearing countless languages and seeing countless nationalities. A diverse culture is a richer culture, and it shows.

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EARLS COURT: I love pub life. Not that I’m always hanging about in pubs, mind you, but Annie and I did a fair amount of our work this past week in pubs (there may have been some rosé involved), and I love the relaxed come-as-you-are-stay-as-long-as-you-like vibe that pubs have. Sure, we have our coffee-shop culture here in the US, but can you get an order of chips (fries) and a pint at Starbucks? And each pub is unique, with different vibe, different look, and doggies welcome. There’s a lot to love right there.

BARONS COURT: I love London’s Blue Plaques. Started in 1866, the Blue Plaques are placed on buildings of historical significance. London does an amazing job of blending its vibrant modern life (I’m looking at you Shard and Gherkin) while honoring its storied history, and I get a little thrill each time I see one of these plaques on a building I pass. “Sylvia Plath Lived Here.” “Dylan Thomas Lived Here.” “Charles (Freaking) Dickens Lived Here.” Literary, historical, political, you name it, those figures are represented. You’re breathing history when you walk down this city’s streets, and those plaques help you remember that.

Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill

HAMMERSMITH: Little known fact, when I was 14 I traveled with my family to London, and we stayed near Primrose Hill. So coming to see Annie and her family feels a little like coming home. Can coming back to a memory be like coming home? That’s how it feels. I love the tall grasses and the view from the top, day and night. I love the dogs that run up to you and the people that picnic on the green. I love the winding streets that surround it, and it might, just might be one of my all time favorite places in the world.

TURNHAM GREEN: The history of curry is complex, and although it’s considered the food of the Indian subcontinent, what we know of as curry is truly a British invention. The Portuguese first tasted these stews in the late 1400s and took their name from the Tamil word kari. And no matter how you feel about the Byzantine moves of the British East India Company, once they wrestled control of India from the Portuguese, they charted a course through history that connects India and Britain for good and for ill. The good? The abundance of Indian food in London and Indian restaurants that thrive today. I’ve already mentioned Dishoom, but if you get a chance, hit up Bombay Bustle. Next on my list? Darjeeling Express.

ACTON TOWN: I get far fewer headaches in London, even with all that rosé, but I am allergic to the London Plane tree that populates the streetscapes. So while I don’t love the London Plane, I loved learning that this tree, believed to be a hybrid between the American Sycamore and an Oriental Plane, was planted en mass during the Victorian era because its hardy nature could withstand the rigors of the Industrial Revolution. And get this! One of the best places to view the London Plane is Berkeley Square, one of my favorite places I visited way back when I was 14!

Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill

SOUTH EALING: Recognize this street? Go watch Paddington 2 and see if you don’t. I love the rows upon rows of terraced houses that populate London’s streets. Italy gave the concept of the terraced house to London in the mid-1600s, but its true building boom took place during the, you guessed it, Victorian Era. There’s a lot to say about building codes and architecture, but true terraced houses can be seen straight through, from front to back, with windows on either end. I love that they exist as houses still or are converted into flats and that they are an integral part of London’s landscape.

NORTHFIELDS: I love that there are places you go to for things. Easter candy at Selfridges. Underthings (how Victorian of me…and among some of my best purchases!) at Marks and Spencer. John Lewis for housewares and suitcases. Men’s suits in Savile Row. Liberty for gorgeous fabric and prints.

BOSTON MANOR: London has a knife violence problem. The mayor of London has, rightly I think, linked this to poverty and has set up youth initiatives to combat knife violence, and on one of my walks from the Tube I pass a giant bin for disposing of knives. What London does not have is a gun violence problem, and I love waking up and not learning of more deaths by guns in my community. Just last week, five people were shot in two days in my city alone.

OSTERLY:
I’m more of an appreciater of gardens than a gardener, so I love the front garden culture of London’s streetside homes. Many a walk from the Tube has been enriched by spindly, long-legged rose bushes, by verdant trees, wandering wisteria and lush lilacs. Thank you home gardener, thank you.

HOUNSLOW EAST: I love all the neighborhoods of London, urban and less so. I love the buzz of SOHO and Oxford Circus compared to the calm of Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath. All within half an hour of each other.

HOUNSLOW CENTRAL: What I really sense, at least among my friends there, is how much Londoners love London, and the UK in general. Sure commuting can be a hassle, and Brexit is their own special kind of terrifying, but to a person, the people I talk to love their city and their country and they’re proud of it and think it’s beautiful in a way that’s lovely to bear witness to.

Thomas’s @ Burberry,

Thomas’s @ Burberry,

HOUNSLOW WEST: I’m just going to say it. I love Liberty. I blame Annabel for this, but seriously. I love its dark wood walls and staircases. I love the air of luxury when you walk in the doors, the way it smells, and the lions that stand guard in front of the flowers outside. I love that novels based in WWII reference Liberty prints, and, like much of London, they can be both gloriously historic and cutting edge all at once. Unlike the miles of malls we have in the US, this is shopping with heart and soul, and I find it hard to have a better experience.

HATTON CROSS: Walk into Marks and Spencer or Waitrose and get a gin & tonic or Pimms Cup in a can, what more could you need?

HEATHROW TERMINAL 3: It takes about an hour on the Piccadilly Line to get from King’s Cross to Heathrow; how long did it take you to read this post (wink)? I love learning about London. I love it and all its quirks and eccentricities more each time I visit. I love having rooms to stay in Clapham and Primrose Hill and Stoke-Newington, if Ralph lets me. I love that there are places outside of London where friends have invited me that I haven’t even been! And that’s what it boils down to. The fact that I have such a dear group of friends, both inside London and out quite overwhelms me. Here I am, solidly (and mostly contentedly) in middle age, and these friendships, most of which are new, have come into my life to surprise and delight at me. What a gift, at this age and this stage to be delighted and surprised in such a way. Thank you dear friends. Thank you London.

The Story of Me, July 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram

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“I am much inclined to live from my rucksack, and let my trousers fray as they like.”
Herman Hesse

on the open road

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I’m not completely sure how it happened, but somehow we’re managing to make our third summer trip in a row to Maine. This year we’re tacking an extra week onto our drive to get Cal back to Burlington for his summer term, and visiting Maine and our friends there was an obvious choice.

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What is it about the open road that has such appeal, especially in summer time? The lure of the American road trip finds its origins all the way back to the 1930s with the rise in use of the automobile and the expansion of the American highway system. By the 1950s, Americans were traveling those thousands of paved miles for business and recreation, and a whole industry of drive-in restaurants and motels cropped up to cater to road-weary travelers.

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For us, of late, those roads have called us north, to Maine and New England, even before Cal made it his home for college. Lobster rolls, maple syrup and tiny Maine blueberries that explode like a sweetness bomb in your mouth await us there.

Maine is more than that for me, though. And for my friends who live there and those who visit regularly, well, they get it too. It’s the stillness of the lake in the morning. It’s the dappled light filtering through the pines. It’s the beam from a lighthouse and the way the low-angled sun hits the hillside. I never, ever regret making a trip to Maine.

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I did a quick scan on the internets for “road trip photography,” and let’s just say that I came away sorely disappointed. Make sure you have electricity, pack two batteries, blah, bah, blah. Really people, we can do better than that.

I want to channel my deepest American roots with my road trips! I want Thoreau when he “sucks the marrow out of life,” but I especially want Whitman by my side.

“Afoot and light hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path leading where ever I choose.”

Those are the pictures I want to take, not ones that care about battery life or access to electricity. Let’s see if I get there.

See you on the road.

The Story of Me, May 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


photo credit to Annabel Bird

photo credit to Annabel Bird

“We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more.”

”We’ll Gather Lilacs,” Ivor Novello

The Story of Me, April 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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“The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little illuminations. Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”

Virginia Woolf

on living lightly

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I’ve been in England a week now, traveling from Heathrow straight to the Cotswolds and back to the city. I’ve met the loveliest of people and stayed in (already!) some amazing homes and pubs. I’ve taken some spectacular walks and eaten some stellar food.

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As enriching and illuminating as travel can be, it can sometimes set you adrift, and I feel aware of this fact as I’ve already slept in five different beds in three different homes in my short time here. When nearly every single experience is a new experience, it can be hard to find the inner core of yourself in the center of it all, and I knew that if I struggled with anything in my time here, it would be that.

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I’m trying to live lightly during my time here, balancing that sense of fully rooting myself to this place while being fully aware that I’m not in my space. It’s like walking tenderly through someone’s garden so you’re careful not to trod on the flowers. So I’m constantly aware of my impact on other people’s spaces. I’m trying to live as contained as possible, and that’s been good for me. Cleaning up after myself instead of leaving all my crap spread out all over the table… what a revelation!

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But I’m also trying to make sure I tend to myself in this time of flux. I’m trying to keep to my routines as much as possible. Morning writing. Daytime work. Evening reading. I’m making sure to get pockets of time alone, knowing how much I’ll need them to keep me going. And music. Keeping my music on and going has grounded me in a sense of self the way few other things have.

Are these travel tips? I hardly think so! If you want those, I’d say, pack small bags for all your little things like cords and pills and notebooks, all to put in your bigger bag, It’ll be easier to keep things organized. Oh, and don’t forget a pair of black trousers.

Today, more London. Tomorrow back to Devon. I can’t wait.

on learning how to say yes

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I have to admit that it’s pretty funny that I’m writing my first true blog post here (peer pressure works, y’all!) while my dining room table is covered in all the crap I still need to pack before I board my flight for the UK tomorrow. But really, it seems like there’s no better time to pause, draw breath and reflect for a moment about what brought me here, ready to spend nearly two months in the city of my dreams.

It all comes from saying yes. Just yes. Yes to the unexpected. Yes to the improbable. Yes to the wildly out of character.

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I am by nature a homebody. I was so connected to my space, that people used to joke that my home was the source of my power. I liked it there. But something happened this past summer, when Cal was gathering himself to head to college. I came untethered. My sense of motherhood shifted and along with it my sense of self.

All of the sudden things that never seemed possible became more so. I said yes to hikes. I said yes to going places on my own. I said yes to travel. I said yes to trusting myself. I said yes to looking over the ledge into the pit and not flinching at what bubbled away inside. I deepened my friendships and enriched my life through music and art. All by saying yes.

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If you’d asked me a year ago what my empty nest would look like I never would have dreamed that I would have said Santa Fe, the UK, Savannah, New York City, my first show, and now back to the UK, this time for an extended stay. I never would have dreamed that I would have wanted travel, travel, travel and more and more and more.

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But you know what? You learn a lot when you say yes. About yourself and the world around you. Your heart expands and your vision does too. My friend Marianne gave me an early birthday card at lunch this week with an amazing quote from Ray Bradbury. “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”

That’s me all the way. After I finish packing.

one walk, one roll, August 2018

From time to time I'll grab my camera and stuff my pockets with quotes from the things I'm reading and set out on a walk. The following galleries contain images from those walks. Just me, one camera and one roll of film. 



"Islands of light are swimming on the grass," said Rhoda. "They have fallen through the trees."

Virginia Woolf, The Waves

rock away

In August of 2018, our son left for college. These photos document the lead up to the day his dad and I moved him into his dorm.
 
All alone, nothing but the sound
Of crickets on a summer's night.
On our own, no one else around
I tell you that would be all right.
Oh baby, oh baby
Oh baby, oh baby
Rocky-a-bye baby, my best toy is real.
Nothing can hurt us, our loving can heal.
Climbing was scary, but soon we'll arrive.
It's getting as easy as being alive.
Rockin' away til a quarter to five.


Phoebe Snow, Rock Away 

The Story of Me, March 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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My days all look the same
And I’ve know these wolves by name
’Cause my own devils are all heartless loves
And these sea legs tend to ache
Whenever I stay in the same place
It might be good of me to go

The Ballroom Thieves, Sea Legs

The Story of Me, February 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not
But at best I can say I’m not sad

Lana Del Ray, hope is a dangers thing for a woman like me

The Story of Me, January 2019

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


photo credit: Ashleigh Coleman

photo credit: Ashleigh Coleman

May the light be upon me, may I feel it in my bones
That I am enough, I can make anywhere home
My fingers are clenched, my stomach’s in knots
My heart, it is racing, but afraid I am not

P!nk, I Am Here

The Story of Me, December 2018

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

The Story of Me, November 2018

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms or like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for answers. They can not now be given to you because you cannot live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you will need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The Story of Me, October 2018

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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“All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity to being oneself, a wedge shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others … and this self, having shed its attachments, was free for the strangest adventures.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

The Story of Me, September 2018

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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“For now she had not to think of anybody. She could be herself by herself. And that was what she often felt the need of — to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

The Story of Me, August 2018

Each month I join a group of women who are using words and images to explore their personal stories. You can follow The Story of Me Project on Instagram.


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"I have seen my sons and daughters, once netted over like fruit in their cots, break the meshes and walk with me, taller than I am, casting shadows on the grass." 
Virginia Woolf, The Waves